Leading, but not by example
SEPTEMBER 14, 2011
Martin Brundle wrote a post Italian Grand Prix column on the BBC website. The former F1 driver-turned-commentator discussed the behaviour of Fernando Alonso when dealing with Sebastian Vettel and, more specifically, the robust tactics employed by Michael Schumacher in his lengthy defence against an attack by Lewis Hamilton.
Brundle's words have been picked up by websites far and wide. While there seems to be general agreement that Alonso's easing of Vettel onto the grass at 180 mph was not the most sensible thing the Spaniard has ever done - and for which he apparently apologised to Vettel - the comments on Schumacher's performance have, as ever, split opinion.
Broadly speaking, you either agree that Schumacher's consistent use of two moves was unacceptable or, as his supporters will have it, the second block was perfectly legal because he was legitimately assuming the racing line for the next corner.
Reducing the argument to a more fundamental level, some observers say F1 needs to have Michael back on form, while one Aussie correspondent offered the erudite thought that 'Brundle is a whingeing Pom still sore at having been beaten by Schuey when Benetton team-mates in 1992.'
Whatever your view on the latter, Brundle did experience being unceremoniously pushed onto the grass by Schumacher at Silverstone and he has first-hand experience of the Michael's cast iron conviction that he is the fastest man out there and others have absolutely no right to overtake. Just ask Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and, more recently, Rubens Barrichello. Some correspondents claim everyone should know that's the way Schumacher works, so good luck to him; others say that is no excuse and his tactics are as unacceptable now as they were fifteen years ago.
If anything, Schuey was fortunate on two counts on Sunday: his questionable habits were not referred to the stewards and Hamilton was, by his usual ebullient standard, in a subdued mood.
Poor Lewis: he can't get it right, can he? Either he is too aggressive and involving himself in far too many incidents; or he is heeding this criticism (plus carrying the memory of crashing out of the previous two Italian GPs) and over-compensating by appearing to be a shadow of his former self.
Mind you, when Jenson Button took advantage of the Schuey-inspired visit by Hamilton to the grass, passed Lewis and then dealt with Schumacher as if he was standing still, it must have sent Hamilton into as close to mental orbit as he's ever likely to be without saying something he'd later regret.
Whatever the circumstances working in Schumacher's favour, his elbows-out driving did at least prompt race control to contact the Mercedes team - Ross Brawn in particular - and advise him to have a quiet word in his driver's ear. Clearly, the officials were sensitive to what was going on despite Michael's post-race assertion he had done nothing wrong on the grounds that the stewards had not asked to see him.
Returning to Brundle's column, I want to quote the following:
'Why are we sensitive to blocking? ' asked Martin. 'It's the scourge of all junior racing, and will sooner rather than later cause the death of a driver or marshal, or send a car flying into the grandstands. It's not about favouring one driver over another.'
When I read those words, I heard the voice, not of an experienced commentator, but of the father of a 21-year-old who is pursuing motor racing as a career. For me, this is the point (and always has been ever since Ayrton Senna drove into the back of Alain Prost at Suzuka in 1990 - and got away with it.)
For the hundreds of thousands of youngsters around the world watching their heroes at work at Monza, and having seen two world champions force two more world champions onto the grass with no action being taken by the stewards, such driving behaviour appears to be perfectly okay.
That surely can't be right? That seems to be the view of Derek Daly, advisor to the stewards at Monza. Daly says the stewards were busy reviewing a slow-motion replay of another incident when Schumacher shut the door on Hamilton as they went into Curve Grande.
Having since seen the incident on his return to the United States, Daly says he would have called for a drive-through penalty at the very least. "This style of driving is not what you want the future generation of drivers to perfect," said Daly.
So speaks another racing dad who knows exactly what he's on about.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.