At the end of qualifying yesterday Michael, whether accidentally or on purpose, ended up stopping the other people aiming for pole from being able to complete their hot laps because his car was in the way.
The reaction of many teams and drivers was that Michael had cheated and had deliberately done this to stop anyone else from bettering his time. And last night race control announced that they were stripping him of all of his qualifying times for cheating.
My immediate thought when I saw what had happened was that he’d been very lucky to stall there as it meant nobody would beat him. Which immediately led me to ask the question – “he couldn’t have done this on purpose could he?”
Then the rational part of my brain took over and said the following things in quick succession:
1) Nobody – not even Michael – has completely perfect car control. There would have been a huge risk that he either crashed the car or flat spotted the tire thus compromising his race.
2) The spot is unsighted and he wouldn’t know how close anyone was behind him. If the marshals hadn’t been as quick as they were, or a rookie hadn’t spotted them then there would have been the chance for a massive crash involving his car which would hugely compromise his race.
3) If Alonso had to momentarily lift and was therefore .3 seconds slower than Michael then he wasn’t sufficiently blowing Michael away on that lap to let Michael know for sure it was worth pulling the stunt. What I mean is that if Alonso had been half a second up on him then it would have been obvious that he would have to do something drastic but it wasn’t that “cut and dried”.
So after all of that I decided that it was an accident. An accident that just happened to look odd, and happened to favour Michael. Which effectively demanded that it would be investigated because Michael always seems to be the centre of controversy.
The incident called into my mind the infamous Senna vs. Prost incidents where two years in a row the world championship was decided by one or other of them deliberately driving the other off of the road (eg. Senna won the championship in 1990 because he was ahead in the championship going into the last race. And to guarantee his win he made sure neither he or his only rival could complete the race). Senna when asked if he thought it was sportsmanlike conduct to deliberately crash your car off the road to win said something along the lines that, “the only thing a sportsman should concentrate on is winning – and I wanted to win”.
But people don’t hold up Senna and Prost as cheats and bad sportsmen. They say they were legends of the sport. And they were teammates both times!
So at this point I was pretty sure, as I said, that it couldn’t have been a deliberate ploy. And I kept feeling that until I saw the reactions of the other drivers. Normally if it’s a regular incident that’s a bit iffy then you expect a quote from Jacques Villeneuve. If it’s a bit more iffy then expect David Couthlard and Montoya to weigh in. But this was something else. There were quotes from Kimi and quotes from Mark Webber. It was the Mark Webber comment that turned me around. I know that Mark had a reason to want Schumacher out of the way (as he’ll now be starting from the front row of the grid) and could therefore be seen as biased but he’s normally such a benefit-of-the-doubt kind of a guy that it seems pretty damming. Here’s the best quotes about the incident:
“I understand the second sector was well down, you could say he was trying very, very hard in the last sector, but it looks like there’s been two moves on the steering wheel from what I’ve heard. Obviously if it is intentional it is childish, isn’t it? It looks a bit tricky to be honest. Senna did some pretty wild things because he believed that was right. But will Michael sleep well tonight? Who knows?
“If it’s deliberate it’s absolutely rubbish, it’s massively below the belt and if that’s the case he should definitely lose all his qualifying.”
“Was it really a mistake? I’m not so sure.”
“I don’t believe that he really had any problems.”
“He should have taken one hand off of the steering wheel and covered the camera with it”.
And of course the most blunt comments from Jaques
“I hope it was deliberate, because if that was a mistake he should not even have an F1 superlicence, if you can make a mistake like that, you shouldn’t drive a race car. There’s no way you could make a mistake like that. It’s the kind of thing I couldn’t dream of doing myself. I don’t know what goes through your mind when you decide to do that, when you know that the rest of the world can see. I don’t understand it, it’s stupid. He didn’t need to do that, he’s a seven-times world champion, he was on pole position. Why do that? It’s only going to make him look bad.
“This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for a world champion. It would even be embarrassing for [Yuji] Ide”.
So Michael and Ferrari have previous which gives them a worse chance with race control. And to my mind it’s 50:50 as to what exactly happened out there. So all we are left with is the question of what would Race Control do. I was convinced that they would decide that it was better to not brand Michael a cheat and that they would say that it was an accident and that it could stand. And that they would then add that any further attempts to lodge a complaint against Schumacher or briefing against Schumacher to the press would be seen as bringing the sport into disrepute. The sport can not have it’s world champion seen as a cheat.
But in the end they have gone the other way, and this morning I feel that they have made the right decision. Almost whether Michael did it or not. At the end of this season if Michael had won the season there would be a group of people saying that this world championship was tainted and didn’t count. And that would be bad for him (and the sport). This way removes any doubt and makes the championship run clean (although Michael and Ross Brawn might feel that they have been ganged up on and the rest of the teams are cheating I suppose). This decision leaves everyone on an even keel but…
It probably is going to be the deciding factor at the end of the season. Reliability has been really high this season and Alonso is really going to start scampering away at the front if he gets 10 points today and starting from 22 place means there’s a good chance Michael will get none.