Sunday, 18 July 2010

Michael Schumacher

The man who dominated Formula 1 for such a long time is back in action with Mercedes this season. So far it hasn't quite lived up to expectation with a mixed bag of results. I really wanted him to do well as we're both the same age and it took real guts to get back behind the wheel after three years away. The pressure to deliver for a seven times world champion is immense and it takes a particularly strong character, in my view, to rise to the challenge. So much has changed in the cars since 2006 and the new kids on the block -- such as Hamilton and Vettel --- have shown what talent is coming through.

There was a fascinating interview on talkSPORT this weekend in a show hosted by the respected F1 journalist and broadcaster, James Allen. One of his guests was Eddie Irvine, the former Ferrari driver and Schumacher's team-mate for a couple of years in the 90s. He had huge praise for the German but acknowledged that Schumacher was underperforming. "Maybe it will come out in the winter testing. You can push too hard and pressure gets too much. I just think he hasn’t got the mileage at the moment. You lose a bit of whatever it is that makes you drive a car fast.”

What was particularly interesting was what he said about Schumacher during his heyday. "I used to come in and look at his telemetry and I could not understand how he could go through a corner so fast. It was infuriating. He was amazing when the car was undriveable. Michael could drive a wheelbarrow."

I could just imagine Irvine looking at those graph traces in the Ferrari garage and feeling hugely frustrated. Schumacher's ability to hold the machine at high speed through corners was the key to his success. He always accounted for his ability by saying that he had a natural understanding of where the limits of the car were -- and could keep the car at those limits.

There is a fantastic video on YouTube examining the differences between Schumacher and Johnny Herbert, his team-mate at Benetton. It's from a piece from the BBC's F1 programme and uses telemetry traces to show how Schumacher was faster through corners. His secret -- at least one of them -- was that he is able to maintain a greater amount of throttle through the turn and therefore deliver a greater average speed for the lap.

The technique is far from easy. It pushes the car to the limits of grip, causing microseconds of instability many times through the corner. Schumacher countered this with frequent sharp turns of the wheel to deliver opposite lock to keep the car under control.

Driving genius for sure. I sincerely hope that magic returns this season. His domination with Ferrari was not the most entertaining period for F1 but I do wish just a little bit of it makes a comeback. Talking of telemetry, keep an eye out for an interesting piece I'll be doing in the next few weeks examining what else a racing driver has to deliver raw pace. Thanks for reading my first blog!

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