Hero or villain? Schumacher reaches the end of the road

As Michael Schumacher aims to end his title-studded career by stealing an unlikely eighth world championship from under the nose of Fernando Alonso in his final race, tomorrow's Brazilian Grand Prix, we ask prominent figures from the world of Formula One to assess the man and his legacy
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The Independent Online

Niki Lauda, FORMER WORLD CHAMPION
Hero or villain? "Hero. Seven times world champion, nobody else can do this. He is outstanding. [Juan Manuel] Fangio had five, the next best. If you judge Michael as a racing driver, no one has ever performed at the top for so long as him, and that means he has done consistent work on his driving, keeping up the with technology, the way he has always pushed to develop himself and the car, he just kept pushing and never stopped. To win one world championship is easy. You had the right car at the right time. But not seven. That shows his single-minded focus and the support of his wife. He had no distractions, and was always down to earth."
Greatest drive: "No idea. I might say some of my best races were where I had a handicap and only finished third ... Could be the same with him."
Worst moment: "The one thing that I don't understand is when he can be so perfect in making his split-second decisions, which decide whether he crashes or wins, how could he do what he did in Monte Carlo? It's absolutely a normal thing to do, we all did it. The difference is that he did it and he got caught on TV. He should have hit the guardrail. But why say nothing for two days and then come out with a story that isn't a story? I don't understand the conflict in his head. Why couldn't he handle his mistakes the way he handled the car? That's his only weakness, in everything else he was outstanding."
Was he the greatest ever? "Yes, if nobody beats him. It will be a long time before anyone else wins eight world championships, and maybe it will have to be nine. I'm not sure I'll be around to see it."

Sir Stirling Moss, FORMER WORLD CHAMPION
Hero or villain? "A combination, really. He has done a fantastic driving job on so many occasions, but I was really upset by what he did at the Monaco Grand Prix. He's a flawed hero, really. What he did there was unacceptable. I know times have changed, manners etc, but I don't accept that, I can't accept it."
Greatest drive: "The trouble is there have been so many. I can't single one out, and really you need to be there driving against the guy to know just how good a job he has done before you can make a true evaluation. But he was always bloody good in the wet."
Worst moment: "Monaco this year, no question. He is a very intelligent man, so it staggered me that he appeared to do that in such a blatant and arrogant manner. You know, if he'd crashed the car and got out and thrown his helmet on the ground, we'd have all said, 'Poor sod!' But it was too obvious, and I wouldn't have thought such a highly intelligent bloke would let it appear that way, but he did. Totally unacceptable."
Was he the greatest ever? "He was certainly the best of his era, he did a terrific job. His greatest contributions were: a) to bring Ferrari from where they were back up to the top, and b) his sheer consistency over such a long time. It's not fair to compare eras, but for me he's not the best. Had poor [Ayrton] Senna lived he would have done even better, but for me Fangio was the best. He drove in an age where there wasn't a little electronic gadget to sort it all out if things went wrong."

Jacques Villeneuve, FORMER WORLD CHAMPION
Hero or villain? "Michael isn't a great champion because he's played too many dirty tricks and isn't a great human being. I think the problem is that you don't ever see his true personality."
Greatest drive: "Don't know."
Worst moment: "Look at Monaco this year. Senna played dirty tricks too but he did it with more class, more integrity. When he took [Alain] Prost out at Suzuka in 1990, he said he was going to do it before the race. So, unlike Michael, who ridiculously insisted he was innocent at Monaco, Senna said, 'Yes, I did it. But I told you before the race that I was going to do it.' That's very different from what Michael did at Monaco, and Jerez in 1997 and Adelaide in 1994. Senna wasn't lying to the fans. Michael was. And the sad thing is that, of course, the fans accept it - they swear black is white, in fact - just so they can go on respecting the sport they love. And Michael takes advantage of that loyalty."
Was he the greatest ever? "He's a racer - but a pure racer, nothing but a racer and, because of that, I think the day he hangs up his helmet people will just forget him. Senna, by contrast, will never be forgotten. Some of that is the James Dean factor, of course, because he was killed in action at a young age, but not all of it. I don't even think Michael will live on in people's memories as strong or as long as Prost has - certainly not as strong or as long as [Nigel] Mansell has. Those people attained a hero status that Michael never has and never will."

Hans Stuck, FORMER F1 DRIVER
Hero or villain? "A hero, definitely. No doubt. Because of what he has done for German motorsport. He made it interesting again, and brought that interest to such a high level. There is a whole young generation of drivers who now want to race. But being a hero means that you cannot always go straight, sometimes Michael has wavered. But he's a hero not just because of the driving; it's what he has shown the other guys about living your life as a professional racer, motivating a team, concentrating on the job, fitness. There is no one else close to him in this."
Greatest drive: "The last is always the most memorable, but overall I would say the way he has driven the final half of this season, coming back from 25 points down. He has shown how strong he can be, and he has helped Ferrari to improve their car and has motivated them. That shows what he can do."
Worst moment: "I thing he has always had a fight within himself to be straightforward. Some of my colleagues would call him a liar, but that's too hard. But in some cases I think he would have liked to have a different personality. When Ayrton took Alain Prost off in Suzuka, he later apologised to him and said he had to do it. He was open about it. Michael never could be like that, never could apologise for some of the things he has done."
Was he the greatest ever? "In terms of success, number of championships, number of wins, yes. No one else is close. But if you judge from the hero point of view, no. Perhaps it will take a few more years for things to fall into perspective on that, but I would still say that Ayrton was the best, though it is very hard to compare the different eras because so much is different. Fangio was a hero, but go back to the cars my father raced for Auto Union in the 1930s, and the risk was even greater then ..."

Martin Brundle, FORMER F1 DRIVER
Hero or villain? "Hero, but with villainous streaks. Just look at the statistics, you can't argue with them. Even asking the question is indicative of a problem, isn't it? Image any other sportsman with his record stepping away in one piece and there still being a question about them. But we are still unsure about him. It's sad, but true."
Greatest drive: "That wet race in Barcelona, in 1996 in the Ferrari, was probably one of his finest. He just decimated the field."
Worst moment: "For Michael, it must have been Silverstone in 1999 when he broke his leg."
Was he the greatest ever? "No, there were flaws in his make-up."

David Tremayne, F1 JOURNALIST
Hero or villain? "Anti-hero might be the best description. His reputation for arrogance is probably unfair, and what he did behind the scenes after the tsunami marks him out as special, but he often hid that and I never cared for his ruthless win-at-all-cost mentality or the way he treated team-mates. Any sport needs a figurehead who is equally loved and hated, so he did a lot for F1 in that respect. He had a fabulous talent, but I always felt he lacked the dignity of true sportsmanship."
Greatest drive: "Spa 1995 sticks in the mind with some brilliant driving on slicks in the wet. Then there was Spain 1996 when he took a bad car to victory in appalling conditions, his first success for Ferrari. Or Suzuka 2000 when he beat Mika Hakkinen fair and square to secure his third title."
Worst moment: "Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997 will always haunt him, but he had redeemed himself when he did that stupid parking manoeuvre at Monaco. That was just so classless, such a low thing to do."
Was he the greatest ever? "No. Until recently with Alonso and [Kimi] Raikkonen, the only driver of equal talent in his era was Mika Hakkinen. Fangio had [Alberto] Ascari, Moss, [Tony] Brooks and [Mike] Hawthorn; Jim Clark had [Dan] Gurney, [Chris] Amon, [Jackie] Stewart, [John] Surtees, [Graham] Hill, [Jack] Brabham; they had such high calibre opposition pretty much all the time. For me Clark was the best, followed by Gilles Villeneuve, Senna, Moss, Fangio, Stewart, Prost and then Schumacher, just ahead of Ascari and [Mario] Andretti."

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