Michael Schumcher VS. Lewis Hamilton
Yes, that was my reaction too when I saw the above headline in a British mag: They have got to be kidding!
Make no mistake, 22 year old Lewis Hamilton, the guy who nearly won the Formula 1 World Championship in his rookie season, is quite a talent. But to compare him after just 17 races with seven time world champion Michael Schumacher? Oh puh-leeeze..
An overnight sensation nearly 10 years in the making (McLaren boss Ron Dennis signed him to the team's driver development program when he was 13) Hamilton jumped straight into one of the fastest, best funded cars in the championship. In terms of equipment, his only real rivals were the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Filippe Massa, and the McLaren of his teammate Fernando Alonso. He was always going to have a stellar rookie season.
I saw Michael Schumacher's very first F1 appearance, the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix at the daunting Spa circuit. He was driving a Jordan, a car that could charitably be described a mid-fielder at best, as a last minute substitute for regular driver Betrand Gachot. To learn the track he rode around it on his fold-up bicycle - there were no hyper-realistic Playstation games to practice on in those days.
Schmacher qualified seventh on the grid. And as I watched him slice the Jordan through the fearsome swoop of Eau Rouge, one of the greatest corners in racing, without lifting, I saw an exhibition of confidence, commitment and car control beyond the understanding of mere mortals. Forget superstar. This guy was a supernova.
The very next Grand Prix, Schumacher was at the wheel of a Benetton-Ford, a better car than the Jordan, but still no McLaren or Williams. He finished fifth, beating his teammate, triple world champ Nelson Piquet. Within three years he'd won the first of two back-to-back world championships for Benetton. Then, in 1996, he moved to Ferrari.
These days it's easy to forget that in 1996 a Ferrari driver had not won a world championship for 17 years. Driving for Maranello was a dream that had seduced even the most hard-nosed hotshoes over the years: Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger. But none of them could make the red cars regular winners.
Schumacher made Ferrari winners. True, he couldn't have done it without the talents of the backroom boys like Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, and Rory Byrne. But it's equally true that Todt, Brawn, and Byrne would not have become the nucleus of the most successful team in modern F1 racing without Michael Schumacher.
That's because Schumacher was more than just a driver. He was a leader, a motivator, a team builder. Just watch the way he pointed and waved to various team members whenever he was on the podium accepting the trophy and the kudos. Or hear the stories of how he'd stay late at the track, working with his race engineers on his car's race setup and strategy. He made Ferrari believe it was the best F1 team in the world. And every time he wheeled a car out onto the track, everyone in the team knew he would give them back 110 percent.
Schumacher's last race, the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix was a case in point: After a puncture dropped him to 19th, he charged back through the field to finish fourth in one of the greatest drives of the modern era. With seven world championships, 91 wins and 190 points finishes, Michael Schumacher had absolutely nothing to prove. If he had simply parked the car after the puncture, no-one would have thought any less of him. I doubt the thought ever crossed his mind.
"Hamilton's achievements this year underlined the reality that as far as F1 is concerned, Michael Schumacher is yesterday's man..." wrote one British Hamilton booster.
Oh, really? Some Maranello insiders casually mentioned to me last Thursday Schumacher had been back on the track again, helping the team figure out how to deal with the ban on traction control next season. It had been more than a year since Michael had last driven a grand prix Ferrari, but he finished the test with a best lap that was half a second quicker than regular driver Filipe Massa's fastest in the same car. The smiles on the faces of the Ferrari men as they told me this said it all.
I'd be willing to bet "yesterday's man" could put a Ferrari on the front row of the grid for the 2008 Australian Grand Prix next March if he was given the chance.
Lewis Hamilton's a great driver. But he's no Michael Schumacher!!
Agreed, but in 10 years, he certainly COULD be...
In the long run I believe Hamilton could be the next great driver. It is certainly refreshing to see this driver in the lineup since most of the other drivers are frankly boring. He is fast, aggressive, and focused. Personally I find the whole F1 lineup to be frankly boring. ALMS, Grand-AM Rolex, LeMan series - now that is some real racing.