Schumacher faces fight for redemption

Michael Schumacher has always maintained he has no interest in his statistical achievements, records or longevity.

“That can wait until I put my feet up and smoke my pipe,” he has always joked.

But 19 years on from his extraordinary Formula One debut with Jordan in 1991, the seven-time champion returns to the scene of his first race under unprecedented pressure to prove his mettle and his potential.

Three weeks after his widely criticised and dangerous move on former Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello during the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 1, the German knows his head is on the block.

His 91 wins in 260 grands prix no longer count for much after an aggressive defensive barge that almost pushed the Brazilian veteran, now with Williams, into the pit wall.

It was lucky for Schumacher, now 41, that nobody was hurt. Lucky too that the incident took place before the traditional summer break—and lucky, also, that he was given only a 10-place grid penalty for next weekend’s classic contest on the sprawling but magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

His results this year hardly promise anything but more finishes among the midfield runners—he has claimed only three top-six places all season—and, for a disappointed Mercedes team, more mediocrity.

Many feel that after his latest and most harrowing brush with the wrong kind of controversy, it is time for Schumacher to call time on his career.

But he is not a man for walking away from a fight and certainly not a competitor who concedes against any opposition—even with a 10-places grid disadvantage.

Predictably, he is looking forward to returning to his favourite circuit with some relish.

“Spa has always been my favourite race track and so for that reason alone, I am really looking forward to going back and racing there,” he said. “It has been ages since I was last there.

“Our weekend will obviously be handicapped by my grid penalty and consequently it will be difficult to expect special things from the race.

“On the other hand, every racing kilometre is important and welcome because we can learn from it with regard to our car.
I will definitely try to make the best of the weekend.”

Spectacular results
One look at the record book tells you why Schumacher is excited about returning to Spa where his F1 career began and where he reeled off some of the most spectacular results and drives of his career.

It is more than just the six wins and three second places he has claimed—Schumacher won his first race there in 1992, surpassed Frenchman Alain Prost’s record of 51 Grand Prix wins there in 2001 and took his seventh title there in 2004.

His six victories make him the most successful driver at Spa, ahead of Brazilian Ayrton Senna who won five times.

In 1995, most famously of all perhaps, he won from 16th on the grid in rapidly changing wet-and-dry conditions—often pushing Briton Damon Hill to the very limits.

“We had some pretty hairy moments and I am not satisfied with being driven into—I don’t think that was acceptable,” said Hill at the time. “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.”

That, of course, was 15 years ago. Barrichello’s very similar complaints were made only three weeks ago.

But next weekend, the same older Schumacher will return to his oldest F1 haunt in what may be his final bid for glory and redemption—before he reaches for his pipe and slippers.—AFP

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