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OCTOBER 11, 1999

Schumacher gives way to Italian pressure

HAVING said that sitting out the last two races of the year was "the only reasonable decision", Michael Schumacher decided at the end of the week to be unreasonable and agreed to race in Malaysia and Japan to support Eddie Irvine's bid for the Formula 1 World Championship. Having announced that he was not fit enough to race Schumacher did three days of testing at Mugello and Fiorano and promptly changed his mind.

"What was important was seeing how much the team wanted me to be there," said Schumacher. "I'm not at 100 percent, but I've realized that I have to be there. I had to convince myself, and these practice sessions gave me the confirmation."

After the first test Schumacher went to Rome to meet the Pope and even then was still not happy. "My leg is better," he said, "but it is still not right."

Obviously the encounter with the Pontiff worked miracles. It may also have helped that the usually-friendly German press was somewhat surprised when their hero announced that he would not be racing. The influential newspaper Die Welt said that his decision showed "no hint of the sense of duty to his employer which turned him into the highest paid driver in the history of motor racing."

Another newspaper Das Bild called the decision "a puzzle" and quoted Niki Lauda asking why one day Schumacher announced he would not be racing and the following day was in action testing.

Schumacher's decision may be one that he will regret. Before deciding to race he complained that one of his knees was preventing him from training properly and that he was not able to run for more than a few laps at a time. He said that he could not drive a whole Grand Prix at his usual pace and risks aggravating the knee injury.