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What’s the good sport ? May 29, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Motorsport.

As the dust settles on yet another Monaco Grand Prix, pundits will, not unexpectedly, have much to talk about. Most notably, Michael Schumacher's 'stall' at La Rascasse – in the final minute of qualifying. After 8 hours of deliberations, talks and runs and re-runs of tapes and telemetry it was decided to relegate Schumacher to the back of the grid. But, yet, despite all odds, the man finished a spectacular 5th, registering en route, yet another fastest lap at Monaco.

But this is not about how well Schumacher drove around the back-file, how he made his strategy work for him, or even how he did not give up till the last corner of the last lap. That after all comes in-built with a Schumacher. A driver starting from last finishing 5th would have made the centre-point of any evening news show, but the fact remains, that all Schumacher takes away from Monaco apart from the 3 points, is yet another small stain, in what many believe to be a not-so-spotless shirt.

Schumacher has always bent the rules. When the $50,000 worth diamonds on a steering wheel are probably the cheapest parts of a car, not surprisingly, the stakes are high. So high in fact, that the lines between what is fair and what is not are often made murky ; smudged out by playing with them too often. Like a game of poker, you play your bluff calculating if the consequences are going to be worth the risk. In simple terms, Michael Schumacher is 7 times World Champion because in his book, winning is everything, worth any risk, any gamble.

We had a saying in school – "you are allowed to copy as long as you don't get caught". Schumacher tried to copy, but unfortunately for him, he got caught. But only this time. He knew what could happen, but if had got off lightly (which is not uncommon in F1), it meant a sure race win – and another joyous leap on the podium, surely something not to be spoilt by a Spanish kid in blue and yellow. He failed this time, but knowing from past experience he will do it again and again and again, so long as the balance is tipped in his favour. Consider, the ’94 championship fight between him and Damon Hill –when he slammed into his championship rival to pocket his 1st title with Benetton. Consider his jab at David Coulthard in the ’98 Argentine GP. Again unpunished.

Here readers will point me out to the stripped 2nd spot in the ’97 season to Villeneuve and the heavy fine for the incident at the Austrian GP with Rubens Barichello in ’04. Here too, Schumacher was totally aware of the risks, and was willing to take the chance. And here is where he is a cut above the rest.

Damon Hill once famously said:

"There are two things that set Michael apart from the rest of the drivers in Formula One – his sheer talent and his attitude. I am full of admiration for the former, but the latter leaves me cold."

And it is the latter that makes him a world beater. Talent – a lot of people have, but how many people are ready to put their brother’s life in danger to gain a single position?

Here I am reminded of ridiculous attempts at ‘diving’ in football, attempts at ball-tampering in cricket and doping in athletics. One man’s cheating is another’s ‘gamesmanship’ – and it is such questions that sport will have to answer in future times. These are not easy questions to resolve, and indeed with the increase in money and fame that sport commands, the law-makers have to be on their toes to ensure their idea of ‘fair-play’ is preserved. However he who knows where to cut corners, and bend the rules will always, always have his nose ahead. Only with a little black dot clinging to it.