Schumacher's Luck Turns

 

This past weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia finally saw a return to the podium for 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher. As I said in my review of the race, it was fantastic to see Schumacher back on the podium for the first time since his comeback in 2010. When he crossed the line in 3rd place, I probably cheered louder and punched the air with more joy than I have done for a long time whilst watching a Formula 1 race. Seeing him back on the podium is one of my highlights from the opening eight races of the season, (of which there have been many) and is right up there with Maldonado's victory in Barcelona and Perez's superb second place in Malaysia.

Ahead of the eighth round of the season Schumacher only had 2 points to his name and found himself down in 18th in the standings. One thing was for sure, he certainly wasn't the 18th quickest driver on the grid but due to a combination of driver error (Barcelona with Senna) and car issues whilst in strong positions, he only had two 10th place finishes from the opening seven Grand Prix. Lest we not forget, had it not been for incident with Senna in Barcelona and the subsequent five-place grid drop he had to take, Schumacher would have been on pole for the Monaco Grand Prix. It truly was a fantastic lap (of what we managed to see) that was largely unexpected around a track that probably favours other cars over the Mercedes.

Amazingly Schumacher had retired from 5 of the 7 races prior to Valencia, but not all of those retirements had been of his own doing. Apart from the incident with Senna in Barcelona, the other four retirements have either been caused by other drivers/incidents, or car issues. A gear box issue in Australia while running in a podium position, an error in the pits where a wheel wasn't fitted correctly again caused a possible podium finish to not happen, a typical first corner incident involving multiple drivers saw Schumacher retire on a track where he'd set the fastest lap in Q3; and finally a DRS error in Canada where the rear wing remained open causing a fifth retirement of the season. Luck had not been on Schumacher's side (although he'd certainly had his share of the luck in the past).

That bad luck was however about to change. A strangely poor qualifying saw a few big names drop out in Q2, including Schumacher and Alonso, meant that the German started in the midfield on a track where the first corner always has the potential to see a crash or two, particularly back in the pack. He started on the medium tyre in the hope of one-stopping. In the early part of the race he kept pace with team-mate Rosberg, who after a poor start found himself outside the top ten despite being on the softs. If you watched the race on Sunday, or have read my review about it you'll know just what a crazy, manic and exciting race it was with incidents and overtakes galore; especially in the last couple of laps.

Mercedes boxed Schumacher for a second time after it became apparent that the one stop strategy would leave you too vulnerable at the end of the race (see Di Resta), which left the German with plenty of work to do from outside the top ten in the remaining part of the race. Since his return in 2010 we've seen some, let's say rusty and overly optimistic overtaking attempts from Schumacher which have often led to penalities, warnings and retirements. But this season, with a vastly more competitive car it doesn't seem such a struggle for him (and team-mate Rosberg) to overtake and race at the front. On fresher tyres he and Webber began to hunt down the drivers in the points paying positions with ease at 1-2 seconds a lap, eventually being nearer 3 or 4 as their tyres dropped off. Fresher rubber and more grip certainly help with getting drive out of the slower corners, of which there are plenty at Valencia, and when combined with Mercedes double-DRS and naturally quick car in a straight line, he didn't find too many problems overtaking some of the lower points scorers (Button, Perez and the two Force India's; the latter three having excellent races).

The one overtake that did have me worried though was the one on Maldonado for 3rd. Maldonado has a somewhat 'different' record when it comes to incidents and overtakes and although he is often fair and defends his position hard, it can be sometimes too hard or aggressive. (I'm a big fan of Maldonado, have been since his GP2 days and he features in my first article, but he does have a habit of doing an odd thing from time to time). With a damaged front wing his car wouldn't be handling as perfectly as it should be, but thankfully Schumacher successfully passed the Venezuelan while at the same time keeping Webber behind him. (Nothing against Webber but I really, really wanted to see Schumacher take a deserved podium).

Schumacher crossed the line in 3rd place; from 12th on the grid and outside the top ten after making his second stop, this was an incredible result. Yes it was helped by other incidents at times, but he still did pass 6 or 7 cars on track and no one can deny that after the season he's had, if anyone deserved some luck it was Schumacher. The whole crowd that had gathered below the podium, in the pitlane and in the grandstands around the track cheered and showed their appreciation for a man who is statistically the most successful Formula 1 driver in the history of the sport. (I'd certainly put him in my top 5 drivers of all times, how can you not with 91 wins and 7 World Championships?). It was reward for his hard work over the past 2 and a half years, and long overdue. He arguably could have had at least three podium finishes this season (Australia, China and Monaco) so to see his luck turn with an excellent, clean and intelligent drive was thoroughly pleasing. It's stories like this why I love this sport. You do get rewarding for sticking at something, working hard and not letting your focus slip.

I may not have been his biggest fan during the 2000's, when he was winning every other week in a far superior car but always appreciated and understood what a talent he was. To finish every race on the podium in a season is a fantastic achievement, and along the way he had some fantastic and controversial battles with the likes of Hill, Villeneuve and Hakkinen which to me cements his place as one of the greats. His record is incredible and may never be beaten (although I'm sure Vettel is hoping to). He's 43 years young, and whether this is his last season or not, I hope he'll continue to be up there staying competitive and battling for the podium for the remainder of the year. Wouldn't it be great to see him back on the top step once again? He's great for the sport, fans come to see him and he's helped to launch and improve the careers of drivers like Massa and Rosberg. It'd be incredible to learn from and I'm sure whoever takes his seat at Mercedes, whenever that may be, talks to and listens to Michael as much as they possibly can. Paul Di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Sam Bird could be considered for the drive when the opportunity arises, and what a fantastic chance they have.

So Schumacher's season starts now and hopefully all the bad luck has gone. Personally I'd love to see him back on the podium again at Silverstone next weekend and with the confidence he and the team will take from Valencia, that could well happen. It's great to see him up there, a true great and one of the best two drivers I've ever seen drive a Formula 1 car (started watching in '96).

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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