NOVEMBER 3, 1997

The lost honor of Michael Schumacher

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER has not enjoyed the last week - and it is likely to take some years for the German to rebuild his shattered reputation following his cynical attempt to take Jacques Villeneuve out of the Grand Prix of Europe and by doing so secure a third World Championship title for himself.

Schumacher was taken unawares by Villeneuve on the 48th lap of the race and rather than watch Jacques get ahead Michael chose to drive into the Williams as hard as he could, bouncing off into the gravel track and retirement. Villeneuve survived the assault and went on to win the title.

Although the FIA stewards of the meeting destroyed any credibility they might have had by clearing Schumacher of all charges, the world's media was less forgiving and Schumacher's fragile reputation, which he had spent three years building up after his similar activities at the end of 1994, was demolished.

It is perhaps significant that late on Sunday night at Jerez, Schumacher's personal press officer was to be found in a seriously drunken state, stumbling around in the press car park in Jerez, his efforts wasted.

Even the German newspapers attacked their hero. "Schumacher was to blame for the crash," said the daily newspaper Bild. "He played for high stakes and lost everything - the World Championship and his reputation for fair play. There is no doubt that he wanted to take out Villeneuve". The Frankfurter Allgemeine called him "a kamikaze without honor" and commented that the "monument is starting to crack because the foundations are faulty."

The German TV station asked fans for their views and received the views of 63,081 votes. Twenty-eight percent said they could not support Schumacher any longer.

In Italy there was widespread condemnation of the move. The daily newspaper Unita called for him to be fired by Ferrari. "Schumacher ought to face charges in a Spanish court for the grave deed he committed," it reported. "The driver covered himself, Ferrari and Italian sport as a whole with shame. We are waiting for Ferrari to announce that it is throwing out MichaelÊSchumacher and hiring a new driver who is more intelligent, has more wisdom and a real sense of morality."

La Repubblica reported that "seeing a world title vanish after waiting 18 years is sad enough. But to see it go up in smoke with the move from Michael Schumacher is unfortunately much worse. It's shameful."

Gazzetta dello Sport said that if Ferrari had won the title it would have been "a title to hide" and said that it preferred to go on waiting for the day when "our passion for Ferrari has a happy ending."

Even La Stampa, the newspaper owned by the Agnelli Family - which also controls Ferrari - roared against Schumacher. "His image as a champion was shattered, like a glass hit by a stone."

In the British newspapers Schumacher's maneuver against Damon Hill in Adelaide in 1994 was mentioned in many of the reports. The Daily Mail reported that Schumacher had now "lost the last vestige of his reputation of being a sportsman" and The Times thundered that Schumacher had "sacrificed his reputation by an act of such cynicism that it lost him the right to any sympathy."

Under pressure Ferrari hosted a press conference on the Tuesday after Jerez during which Schumacher tried to limit the damage, admitting that he had made a mistake but said it was a misjudgment rather than a deliberate attempt to take out Villeneuve. "I am human like everyone else and unfortunately I made a mistake," he said. "I don't make many but I did this time."

The comments did nothing to restore his credibility.