|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Schumacher, sumo or masked wrestler?
February 18, 2005 10:28 IST
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello once likened Ferrari team mate Michael Schumacher to a sumo wrestler.
The seven-times world champion is certainly awesome, easily the most successful racer in Formula One history with a string of records set to stand for as long as he lives.
Max Mosley, president of Formula One's governing body, also sees the 36-year-old German as a wrestler, but in his case more like the masked grapplers of 1960s Spain.
"He's one of those sporting phenomena isn't he, he's like Muhammad Ali or (Pete) Sampras or Tiger Woods at his peak...it's the 'I was there, I saw him do that' appeal," said the International Automobile Federation head.
"But the other aspect is that when somebody does blow him off, which sooner or later they are going to, it's all the more sensational.
"It's like the masked wrestlers they used to have in Spain," added Mosley.
"Everybody would always try and get his mask off and he'd beat everybody up and then the tension would rise and rise until at the end somebody would get the mask off."
This season, starting in Australia on March 6, could see Schumacher return as the Sumo -- steamrollering opponents on his way to a sixth title in a row -- or the mask could be ripped off at last.
He is now the oldest driver on the starting grid, embarking on his 15th season to try and extend the longest unbroken reign that Formula One has known, and there are plenty of hungry pretenders eyeing his throne.
Most pundits are predicting another Schumacher title at the moment. But then again, most expected him to be beaten last year and they could not have been more wrong.
The conventional wisdom in 2004 was that Schumacher, taken to the wire by McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen the previous year, had reached the crest of his career and had nowhere to go but down.
Schumacher replied by winning 13 of the 18 races and romping to the greatest single-season points tally in Formula One history.
He also racked up a record streak of seven wins in a row in the same season and took his career haul to 83 grand prix wins.
To put that into perspective, the next most successful active driver in terms of race victories is Briton David Coulthard with a mere 13 over a decade.
There is not a rival team boss in Formula One who would not wish to have Schumacher in one of his cars just as there are few drivers really hoping he retires soon, knowing they can add lustre to their own careers by beating him.
This year the champion can overhaul Ayrton Senna's landmark tally of 65 pole positions -- Schumacher needs just two more to equal the late Brazilian's feat -- and also move a big step closer to an extraordinary 100 wins.
There can be no doubt that he would like that century, even if it looks to be a tall order with a Ferrari contract due to expire at the end of 2006.
There are some records that the German can never claim of course, such as the youngest winner, and he is unlikely to go on as long as Italian Riccardo Patrese who started 256 races. Schumacher has 212 so far.
But, as he frequently tells his questioners, he will think about the statistics when he is retired. They are not what motivates him, any more than the money.
"You could (say) that there are more reasons to be pessimistic, especially considering that the other teams seem to be well prepared," he said in January as rival teams began testing their new cars.
"It may become more difficult, but the difficult part is also what makes it fun. It's one more reason to look forward to the new season because I love being challenged."
Mosley has no doubt that Schumacher's oft-predicted retirement to spend more time with his young family remains some distance away.
"I think at the moment he loves what he's doing, he really does," he said.
"You can see this from the fact that when he gets a chance he gets in a go-kart or when (former world rally champion Petter) Solberg offered him a run down a special stage in Norway he jumped straight in the car."
The German's behaviour during races does not suggest that he is a man under intense pressure either. Ever since he handed Ferrari their first driver's title in 21 years in 2000, the burden has eased.
Mosley, who has access to teams' in-car radio communications, said Schumacher is remarkably relaxed.
"To hear, for example, Schumacher discussing the exhaust mixture as he's going flat out through the Casino square, calmly and even joking ... you see him going through the swimming pool and its unbelievable, he's cracking jokes," he said.
"They (the team) are adjusting things the whole time and he's doing it, laughing and joking. With some of the other drivers it's 'Which knob? The grey knob? How do you mean?'"
Formula One: The Complete Coverage