- Top ten ... Schumacher controversies
Bad boy for life?Laurence Edmondson August 5, 2010
Even before he made Formula One, Michael Schumacher was making a name for himself as a man not to be messed with. The Macau Grand Prix is the jewel in the Formula 3 calendar and a must-win event for any rising star with an eye on making it big in the sport. Schumacher knew this and as he started the final lap in the lead he had an equally determined Mika Hakkinen on his tail. Hakkinen was faster and looked set to make a move heading past the Mandarin Hotel when Schumacher blocked him and the Finn's car slammed into the barriers. Hakkinen was clearly distraught and many suspected Schumacher, who went on to win the race, had brake tested his rival.
Schumacher went to the 1994 British Grand Prix with a huge 37 point lead in the drivers' championship and a very competitive car underneath him. He qualified second but on the formation lap twice passed Damon Hill's Williams before lining up on the grid. As the race started his team was informed that he had been given a stop-go penalty, but Schumacher ignored it and stayed out on track. On lap 13 he was given a black flag but still didn't come in, and in doing so gained an advantage as a stop-go penalty would have dropped him into the middle of the pack. Eventually on lap 27 he completed his stop-go, but by that time he had built up a big enough gap over the rest of the field to slot back into second. He was later disqualified for his actions and handed a two-race ban that he served over the Italian and Portuguese Grand Prix weekends. He was also disqualified from the Belgian Grand Prix that year when his car was found to have excessive wear on its skidblock.
The disqualifications and missed races allowed Damon Hill to catch up in the drivers' standings, and when the F1 circus reached Australia for the season finale, Schumacher found himself defending a title lead of just one point. However, that was absolutely no excuse for his actions during the race. Leading but under pressure from the Williams, Schumacher ran wide and damaged his car by slamming into the concrete barrier. Hill, unaware of the damage, threw his car up the inside to pass at the next corner, but as he did, Schumacher turned in on his rival eliminating both cars on the spot and taking the title. Years afterwards Hill said: "There are two things that set Michael apart from the rest of the drivers in Formula One - his sheer talent and his attitude. I am full of admiration for the former, but the latter leaves me cold."
All too often Schumacher mixed his utter brilliance with his dark side, leaving onlookers unsure whether to love or hate him. At the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix he came from 16th on the grid to win the race, but most felt he had gone too far in doing so. As rain started to fall before the midpoint of the race, the leaders came in for wet tyres but Schumacher stayed out on slicks. With his tyres rapidly losing temperature and the Benetton sliding underneath him, Schumacher was soon caught by Hill on wet tyres. It should have been a formality for the Williams to get past but Schumacher kept putting his car in the way, whether it was in the low-speed corners like La Source or the high-speed Blanchimont he blocked and swerved in front of his rival. After the race Hill was as livid as it's possible for an Englishman to get: "We had some pretty hairy moments and I am not satisfied with being driven into; I don't think that was acceptable. That is all well and good but if it was meant on purpose I would be very upset, F1 cars are not go-karts. I think there are some things which are acceptable and some things which are not." The FIA agreed and, although he kept the win, Schumacher was given a one-race suspended ban for his actions.
After a tough first year with Ferrari in 1996, Schumacher came to the final round of the championship with a chance of winning the famous marque's first title since 1979. As in 1994, he went into the season finale with a one point lead but once again he overstepped the line trying to defend it. Villeneuve was attempting to pass on the inside at the Dry Sac corner when Schumacher - in a repeat of his move on Hill three years earlier - turned in on him, breaking his own suspension but leaving the Williams undamaged. "The car felt very strange. The hit was very hard. It was not a small thing," Villeneuve said after the race as he was crowned as the new world champion. Schumacher, meanwhile, was disqualified from the championship by the FIA.
Although it wasn't punished at the time, Schumacher's aggressive exit from the pits at the Canadian Grand Prix brought a whole new rule into F1. After he had pitted in his Ferrari the German rejoined the track and immediately swerved across to the right where an unwitting Heinz-Harald Frentzen was on the racing line. Schumacher left the Williams driver with nowhere to go and Frentzen was tipped into a spin, ending his race in the gravel trap. From that point onwards cars were not allowed to cross a white line separating them from racing traffic when exiting the pits.
By this stage of his career Schumacher's aggressive tactics were well known, but few expected him to try them out on his own brother. Baring a remarkable similarity to his move on Rubens Barrichello at the 2010 Hungarian GP, Schumacher boxed Ralf up against the pit wall and nearly caused a serious accident.
A1 Ring 2002
It was one of the most controversial moments of Schumacher's career, but one that can't be solely blamed on him. Ferrari ordered team-mate Barrichello to move over and let Schumacher win the Austrian Grand Prix, but it was clear that both drivers were embarrassed about the incident on the podium afterwards. Due to Schumacher's already huge lead in the drivers' championship, it did nothing for the German's image as a fair racer and like Montreal 1998 it brought in a new rule into the sport, albeit one that has been harder to police.
Pole position on the streets of Monte Carlo is worth more than at any other race on the calendar. In 2006 it was all set for a genuinely tight battle, and with the final runs left to go, Schumacher held provisional pole ahead of Fernando Alonso. But by the middle sector of his last attempt it was clear that Schumacher was not going to better his time, while Alonso - behind him on the circuit - was on a flyer. In a last-gasp attempt to prevent the inevitable, Schumacher deliberately took the wrong line into the final corner and understeered carefully up to the barrier so that his Ferrari blocked the narrow circuit. The yellow flags came out as a result, ruining Alonso's attempt at pole and securing the top spot for Schumacher ... or so he thought. The stewards did not look kindly on Schumacher's "mistake" and sent him to the back of the grid for Sunday's race.
On his return to the same circuit four years later, Schumacher was grilled by journalists over his actions in 2006. He rebuffed the criticism but remarkably ended up courting more controversy in the race. A safety car had been on track to allow marshals to mop up an incident between two backmarkers and Schumacher found himself behind his old rival Alonso. The pace car stayed out until the last lap but, to allow race leader Mark Webber to take the chequered flag at full speed, it peeled into the pits at the last minute. Schumacher incorrectly saw this is an invitation to attempt a pass on Alonso and made a bold move up the inside into the last corner. The stewards stuck to the letter of the law and issued him with a 20-second penalty, dropping him out the points.
Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1