It was just the sheer arrogant nature of it all. One car weakened by ageing tyres vying with another machine on superior rubber; one driver – at a time retired – back with questionable motivation against another veteran, refreshed and reinvigorated by a fresh challenge.
When Michael Schumacher moved his Mercedes across the Williams of Rubens Barrichello, pushing the popular Brazilian to within centimetres of the concrete wall, we witnessed some of the ruthless Schumacher of old appear paired with the desperation of the new Schumacher. Today, the seven-time World Champion was badly exposed.
It has happened before of course – there was Adelaide 1994, when Schumacher drove into the side of Damon Hill (also in a Williams car) to claim his first title. Then there was his clash with (yet another) Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve at the tail end of the 1997 season at Jerez – on that occasion the German lost the title on the track. He was excluded from the Championship on that occasion; the only driver in Formula 1 history to have that “honour.”
Both of those incidents were for the World Championship at their most vital points when the stakes were at their highest; however the move on Barrichello was single-point scoring 10th place, halfway through a long lost title hunt.
As the Williams was edged ever closer to the wall, the tell tale signs of off-line racing dutifully became apparent. Plumes of dust and dirt rose to attention, disturbed from their race long slumber, before once again settling upon the hot Budapest tarmac. The move was also against an ex-team mate still holding a bitter grudge following years of contractual servitude – it’s visible to see that every time Barrichello beats Schumacher, his smile grows wider and under his anger earlier today, sat that even more satisfied smile. Schumacher tried very hard to hang Barrichello out to dry, but the Brazilian still won out.
We have seen this kind of disintegration before – Rene Arnoux’s decline from a driver of a good standing to also-ran was there for all to see in his post-Ferrari days; whereas former Williams man Ricardo Patrese gained momentum and confidence as his career progressed. While Arnoux would eventually be unceremoniously dumped from the sport that made his name, Patrese went on to have the longest career in Formula 1 – a record eventually broken by Barrichello two years ago.
Ironically enough, it was the force of a much younger Schumacher that hastened Patrese’s exit from Formula 1 in 1993 and with Nico Rosberg sitting opposite in the Mercedes garage, the German is now under mounting pressure as his younger team mate assumes the vital points for the squad. Schumacher’s killer raw pace has clearly dissipated and yet while Rosberg is definitely a good driver, he would never have gotten close to his older team mate in his prime.
Justice was delivered twice in quick succession thereafter – Schumacher, so determined to defend the position, still lost out as Barrichello retaliated by edging the Mercedes driver wide approaching turn one and forcing Schumacher into 11th place. Later in the Grand Prix post mortem, Schumacher also found that he is to be docked ten position following qualifying in Belgium in four weeks time.
Both Norbert Haug and Ross Brawn would later attempt to deflect the blame away from the German driver in a limp manner, but no amount of excuses could clear the Mercedes pilot. That Schumacher himself was bold enough to suggest that Barrichello should have avoided the situation altogether by not attempting a move displayed the worst kind of arrogance; his ignorance of such dangers that he posed to Barrichello and others on the pitwall in that moment was just rank stupidity.
Michael Schumacher’s time in Formula 1 may end sooner than he wants – ‘many’ say that he should have stayed retired, leaving his reputation set at the end of 2006 with that stunning drive at Interlagos.
I am one of that ‘many.’