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'Big joy' hunting

Schumi's quest to reassert himself on F1 has led to uneven yet entertaining results, reports Vinayak Pande.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2011 01:50 IST
Vinayak Pande
Vinayak Pande
Hindustan Times

It is widely accepted that to get a true assessment of a racing driver, he needs to be faced with adversity. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at Michael Schumacher’s current situation. The most successful Formula 1 driver, by far, in history returns after being inactive for the better part of three years and with just three weeks of testing an F1 car tailored for a driver whose set-up preferences vastly differ from his own, he puts his reputation on the line against F1’s new breed of success hungry speed demons.

It was not until the last few races of the 2010 season that he managed to outqualify teammate Nico Rosberg consistently and race wheel to wheel with him. Even 2011 didn’t go well and a miserable run to 12th place at the Turkish Grand Prix prompted Schumacher to say that the "big joy" was missing from racing in F1.

Newspapers, TV channels and websites went into overdrive with that sound byte and speculation of Schumacher’s re-retirement started doing the rounds. And really who could blame them? The stats were there for everyone to see even before Schumacher uttered those words. By that point Rosberg had scored 20 points to Schumacher’s six and there seemed to be little light at the end of the tunnel.

But like he has so often in his career, Schumi dug deep and answered his critics the only way he knows how; on the racetrack. He placed higher than Rosberg in Spain before outqualifying him at Monaco and then passing him after falling behind following a poor start. A fire in his Mercedes’ airbox robbed him of a certain points finish but it his Monaco form turned out to be a prelude to his finest performance since his return last year.

At the unforgettable Canadian Grand Prix, Schumacher finished fourth after dropping as low as 17th following a two hour delay to the race due to heavy rain. In wet conditions, Schumacher rose as high as second and started to close in on race leader Sebastian Vettel before the track dried up and his slower Mercedes fell victim to Jenson Button’s McLaren and Mark Webber’s Red Bull.

His rise up the order included an overtaking maneuver where he passed the Sauber and Ferrari of Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa, respectively on one corner. It was enough to confirm that his fighting spirit was well and truly intact, although at subsequent races he has shown a tendency to push beyond the limits of his car.

At both Valencia and Silverstone he damaged his front wing while trying to pass Vitaly Petrov and Kobayashi. The incident with Kobayashi lead also to a stop-go penalty that. At the German Grand Prix, a spin identical to the one suffered by Vettel, cost him the chance to beat Rosberg after qualifying four places below him.

His inability to produce one-lap speed is the root cause of his incident filled races. But while he may not be the same driver who went toe to toe with

Mika Hakkinen in his prime, his quest to rediscover even a fraction of that form ensures his place as one of F1’s top draws.

First Published: Jul 31, 2011 00:23 IST