Michael Schumacher attempted to draw the controversy surrounding his driving at Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix to a close yesterday when he issued an apology to Rubens Barrichello. The German clashed with his former Ferrari team-mate on the 66th lap at Hungaroring when he squeezed the Brazilian to within an inch of the concrete pit wall at 180 mph.
Schumacher said on his website that after reviewing the incident he had to agree with the stewards – who handed the seven-time world champion a 10 grid-place penalty for the upcoming Belgian GP – that the move was "too hard". The German added that he had no intention of endangering the Williams driver and that he was "sorry" if Barrichello had that feeling.
Mercedes GP team chief Ross Brawn came to his driver's defence yesterday. He said: "It was pretty tough – a tough move by Michael and a tough decision by the stewards. But I don't think for a moment that Michael was trying to put Rubens in the wall – but he was trying to discourage him from coming down the inside because he thought that was where he would be vulnerable. At the end of the day he gave him enough space. You can argue that it was marginal but tough racing."
It's unclear whether the apology will appease Barrichello, who was furious after the race. "You would expect someone with 10 races to do that kind of thing," the Brazilian said. "But for him, who has been through so many things – he is carrying something from the past that is just not necessary today.
"It's been always my fault for six years [at Ferrari as Schumacher's team-mate]. Unbelievable. His view is always that I'm a big crier and so on."
There remains a lot of anger within the sport at Schumacher's behaviour following his return from retirement. The German press might not be admitting it yet, but the comeback has been embarrassing. Sunday's move is a worrying indication that the dark Schumacher still lurks within his psyche, and as he indicated in Canada in June, his default move is to block, even to collide if needs must, whenever challenged for position.
What he did to Barrichello was as desperate as it was dangerous and deliberate. And it is not to be condoned. It is not, as an appalled Jackie Stewart has noted so often, the way in which F1 cars should be driven. It's the way that people get hurt and perhaps a sure sign that it really is time for Schumacher to hang up his helmet once and for all.
Former F1 driver and ex-chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, Alex Wurz, condemned Schumacher's driving, saying he had "stepped far over the line of any sporting code".
"He's a seven-times world champion and knew exactly what he was doing, he did it absolutely deliberately," said Wurz. "If there had been a collision it can be fatal. He was looking in his mirror for around 200 metres, so if he didn't see where Rubens was going either the mirror doesn't work, and the car is not legal, or he should see a doctor and maybe not have an FIA super licence."
How protagonists saw it
Michael Schumacher: "There's not much to say. I was moving over to the inside to make it very obvious and clear to him to go on the other side, but he chose not to so it got a bit tight. We know certain drivers have certain views, and there's Rubens. It was a bit tight and tough, but I think I'm known not to give presents on track. To pass me you have to earn it."
Rubens Barrichello: "You know Michael – you talk to him and he will always feel that he is right. He has been [retired] for three years and he didn't change. He is still the same guy. If we had touched there, I think he would have gone into the wall head-on. I couldn't move any more to the right because the wall was there. It is unbelievable. It was the worst move anyone ever pulled against me."
Ross Brawn: "Certainly [there was no intention based on bad blood from the Ferrari days] from Michael's perspective. I know Rubens has commented on the history between them, but Michael hasn't at all. It is obviously something that is in Rubens' mind. You can argue that it was marginal but tough racing. It may have ended up in a dangerous way but that wasn't the intent, I am sure, by Michael."
The FIA: Motorsport's governing body ruled that Schumacher had "illegitimately impeded" the Williams driver and handed him a 10-place grid penalty.