Winning is everything …

Considering that this is now the 176th post on this blog, I am amazed that I have managed to keep away from my favourite sport. Not one post in almost six months on Formula 1.

The reason’s quite simple. A first post would simply have to be on Michael Schumacher. That it would then unleash a long, possibly unending series was immaterial. But I was (and am) sure I would never be able to do justice to a guy whose performance was exemplified by this :

“Race driving is not a test of courage or a feat of strength. You have to be able to tell whether the car can take a particular corner at a particular speed or not. It is up to you to know how you take this corner but if you need courage to do it, you have a problem. It’s about knowing where the limits lie”

schumi.jpg

7 World Championships. 91 wins of 249 races. 154 finishes on podium (61.85% of the time). 190 finishes in the points (76.3%). 5.5 points on an average each time he started a race – think about it.

Then think about this.

Schumacher is a special ambassador to UNESCO and has donated 1.5 million Euros to them. Additionally, he paid for the construction of a school for poor children and for area improvements in Senegal. He supports a hospital for child victims of war in Sarajevo, which specialises in caring for amputees. In Peru he funded the “Palace for the Poor”, a centre for helping homeless street children obtain an education, clothing, food, medical attention, and shelter. He stated his interest in these various efforts was piqued both by his love for children and the fact that these causes had received little attention. While an exact figure for the amount of money he has donated throughout his life is unknown, it is known that in his last four years as a driver, he donated at least $50 million. And yes, he did donate $ 10 million to the Tsunami Relief Fund. More than any other sports person, most sports leagues, many worldwide corporations and even some countries.

Perhaps the biggest quality associated with Schumi was the ruthless efficiency on the circuit. The must-win. The anything-goes and nothing-is-wrong approach. What should be remembered is the wins. The sheer consistency of performance. The crescendo that perfection achieved each time he climbed into a F1 machine. And the stark contrast when he stepped out. No off circuit controversies. Just a quiet, dignified champion.

Hidden in the Schumacher story are a number of questions about modern sport. But none of the answers deny him excellence.

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19 thoughts on “Winning is everything …

  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for the visit. Was reasonably sure that the name would spark off a debate, so why not with the first comment itself…

    Like I mentioned in the post, the career is not above reproach and it raises a number of questions about modern sport. If you stick with the blog, we’ll probably go through those in time.

    “excellent cheat” though assumes black and white and doesn’t seem like it leaves room for debate.

    7 World championships and 91 races. Its not about Ferrari or Mclaren or Schumi or Senna or Hill or Coulthard or Alonso. Generalising or Colouring those results in black (or red !) does not, to me, make any sense.

    Cheers

  2. Hi Sfx, (and fifthdecade),

    “None of the answers deny him excellence” is absolutely right. At the end of the day, people still want to read about Schumi and he will be remembered for eons to come. Wanting to win at all – not any – cost in the way Schumi exemplified it, is what makes for a great champion. Calling him an “excellent cheat” is so naive. You cannot deny the fact that he’s been champion seven times. And that doesn’t happen being a cheat…as the Alonsos of this world will find out. You need grit and steely determination and you need to have it in you to win – at all costs ! Admire the guy. Toast the champion that he really is. But please don’t belittle yourself by calling the greatest driver the sport has known, a cheat.

  3. i lost interest in f1 once he retired.There is an excellent schumi documentary.Its called Driven to win.I can send the link for the torrent if somebody wants it.

  4. srinath,

    I think a lot of people felt similar – but for a lot of reasons (not all of which racing related unfortunately), what a season its been. (Post coming up this week, hopefully!)

    Saw snippets of Driven to Win last night. Great documentary. Thanks.

    Cheers

  5. “Winning is like a drug. I cannot justify in any circumstances coming second or third” (Ayrton Senna).
    And that’s just how Schumi’s thought about racing, all through his racing career. I admit, Mr Prost (funny you should root for Senna!) that Ayrton Senna was one of the greatest champions of the sport. But figures are facts. Let’s not get emotional. Had Senna been alive, he would have had the grace to acknowledge Schumi as the greatest driver himself. Pretty much like when the Don met Tendulkar and said “he played much the same as I do”. Senna has a legacy. Since he died doing what he loved best, he’ll always be remembered fondly for his greatness and his heroic moments. Few will want to ruffle feathers over the various Prost moments.
    So if one is to keep emotions aside and look at pure facts, Schumacher, for his sheer tenacity stands numero uno. And no one can take that from him !

  6. sangeeta,

    How does “he played much the same as I do” translate to Had Senna been alive, he would have had the grace to acknowledge Schumi as the greatest driver himself.

    And since when did figures become facts?

    Senna was a pioneer, Schumi followed. That is the measure of true greatness.

    anyways, its an endless argument. Schumi has his appeal , Senna had his.

    Cheers

  7. Dear Mr Prost,
    In 1996, when Sir Don Bradman first watched Tendulkar on TV, he called his wife and asked her if Sachin reminded her of anyone. The remark to Tendulkar was the highest compliment the Don would bestow on him, in addition to calling him a “bonzer” (colloquial for an excellent chap!) I hope it don’t need to elucidate any further.
    And figures, plain hard hitting documented figures are FACTS.
    Now I’m beginning to wonder why they ever nicknamed Prost “The Professor” !!

  8. Sfx… that quote by Schumacher points not to “must-win”, but to the extreme amounts of preperation…..

    It is true of most “great” sportsmen, and it is nearly always the most easily ignored facet of their being….

    They are beyond “killer-instinct”, “courage” and other such pedestrian qualities. The courage, killer instinct, discipline, toughness to become masters of their respective arts is much much more than anything that an opposition or match situation can bring about.

    Preperation and sheer single minded pursuit of mastery is the mark of greatness. Be it Schumacher, for whom mastery amounted to knowing better than anybody else, and purely by instinct how far he could push his car around a corner…… for Tiger Woods it is how perfectly he plays his drives and his irons and his puts…… for Federer it is how few errors he makes and how keenly he spots opportunities for winners…… for Tendulkar and Dravid it is their mastery of technique and their application of it to different situations…

    The results follow – be it 10,000 Test runs, or more F1 race wins, or more Grand Slams than anyone else….

    It is never about victory in my view. It is an unshakeable belief in the fact that relentless pursuit of mastery in a craft will invariably bring good results….

  9. Well said, Kartikeya.

    And while I, as a huge Schumi fan don’t disagree with any of whats written here and daresay neither would his staunchest critic, a lot of his achievements are punctuated by a “but” …

    The quote, his work ethic not just to his craft but to the team and the perfection of his craft in various conditions across the F1 calendar are indisputable.

    Tiger Woods once called him the greatest, most dominating athlete of the generation for his sheer consistency in a high pressure sport. And yet there are the “buts” (the crash into Hill at Adelaide, the Monaco stall, the Barrichello team orders …is that bit not about victory?) …. And thats a part of modern sport as well and make for fascinating study (and blogging, hopefully) as we go ….

    Cheers

  10. I disagree with Tiger Woods there with greatest of respect. I would agree that Ferrari as a team have been phenomenal.

    But Schumacher’s consistency has been made possible by Ferrari’s reliability, Ferrari’s use of their generous budget and Ferrari’s technology.

    I know this is probably blasphemy, but without Ferrari engineers (not sportsmen), Schumacher wouldn’t have been as successful as he has been.

    Thats why Schumacher as a sportsman in my view is always one level lower than a Federer or a Sampras or a Woods or a Michael Phelps or a Ian Thorpe or a Jahangir Khan or a Tendulkar or a Lara….

    Schumacher is only of the many equally significant reasons for what is essentially Ferrari’s domination of F1.

  11. Hi Kartikeya,

    Three posts below this one, now even Tiger disagrees with himself 🙂 …. Its so tough to tell isn’t it ? Everybody has their own greatness.

    When Michael Schumacher joined Ferrari, it had not won a constructor’s title in 17 years. Ferrari was considered to have inferior technology and crews compared to front-running teams such as Benetton and Williams. Since that last championship win, various Ferrari drivers, notably Alain Prost, had given the vehicles labels such as “truck”, “pig”, and “accident waiting to happen”. The poor performance of the Ferrari pit crews was considered a running joke.
    Take a look at this. Some people who knew a thing or two about racing actually thought that Schumacher’s greatest achievement was resurrecting Ferrari.

  12. 🙂

    I was half expecting a firing after my last comment…..

    I have friends who worship Schumacher and won’t hear a word that even requests him politely to maybe stand up from his pedestal…

  13. Can one leave a request here for Schumi ?? Don’t know how to say it in German, but here goes:
    SCHUMI, COME BACK ! The sport needs you !

  14. Michael Schumacher is a generous giver and not a bad guy and he has done so much good work he deserves a great applauds and a medal for all the kindness he has done, its a pity that the other formula 1 drivers weren’t so generous and respect the poor and needy, i love Michael a great deal he has helped me sell my book i wrote for him, thank you Michael you are a great guy.

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