He was supposed to intrude powerfully into the history of his sport, joining the great Frenchman Alain Prost in ownership of a record 51 grand prix victories, but sometimes even the best-laid plans of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari don't quite work out. So he has to revert to his fall-back position – as a lord of the sporting universe.
This he did so imperiously at Silverstone yesterday, you had to feel for those who are so regularly obliged to labour despairingly in his wake. Here was another day when they could be forgiven the belief that he has driven and thought his way over nine years into a position where he cannot really lose.
Schumacher couldn't get near the resurrected former world champion Mika Hakkinen yesterday, he suffered the indignity of being overtaken for a second time by the young South American upstart Juan Pablo Montoya and his Ferrari, relatively speaking, performed like something you might pick up at Fred's Bargain Mart. But there he was at the finish, second- placed but welcoming Hakkinen back into the sunlight after 11 barren months, a bit like an indulgent headmaster noting promising work, and explaining carefully that he not did leap and yell in his cockpit when he saw that his only remotely serious rival for his latest world title, David Coulthard, had gone off on the third lap.
"But it did," he admitted, "affect the way I drove the rest of the race. Maybe I would have pushed harder, but I knew I had six points over David – yes, that was very significant."
When first Hakkinen, then Montoya went by him, Schumacher slipped seamlessly into his role as the great pragmatist. If he is vain, it is not a vanity expressed in a moment, even in an individual race – it is to do with the winning on the big, long course, the one that announces who is best.
"Sometimes," he says, "you have to make a decision about what is possible and what is not. That is what I did today. My car wasn't really the way I would have liked it. I had some problems, especially at the entry to Copse Corner, where I got sideways a couple of times." That is where Hakkinen and Montoya struck, so effortlessly they must have felt, light-headedly, that they were back in the go-karts of their their youth.
Hakkinen later rather playfully suggested that he had given Schumacher "a bit of room to do a bit of racing." But the cheese stayed in the trap. Schumacher added, "There was no physical problem with the car, but it was just not well balanced and I could not get the maximum out of it. My main concern at that point was just keeping the car on the track and when Mika came alongside me there was nothing I could do."
Quite gently, Schumacher also pointed out that at the time he was carrying maybe a 100 kilos of extra weight with the fuel load required for the one-stop strategy on which Ferrari gambled and lost. But it was the poor handling that was the key to everything, insisted Schumacher. "The strategy, as always, was a joint decision with the team and I don't think a different one would have necessarily changed anything. Maybe, if I had been able to keep Mika behind me, we would have had a different result. Of course, I'm not happy to finish second, but it was a good day for my championship hopes – but then whatever the championship situation, I want to continue winning races."
The commitment of Schumacher, who now hopes to draw alongside Prost at his home course of Hockenheim, cannot be seriously questioned, but then even his warmest admirers must have struggled in pursuit of their enthusiasm yesterday. Once Coulthard, effectively crippled by a nudge from Jarno Trulli at the first corner, disappeared and Hakkinen announced that both he and his car had been returned to the finest nick, we had the kind of race the great Niki Lauda had so roundly despised on the morning of the race. It was processional, so formal in the end that even admiration for Hakkinen had had plenty of time to run its course.
Lauda, now head of the Jaguar team, asked a prophetic question: "Do we want to develop our road cars or do we want entertaining, proper racing where we attract more and more spectators? Because the cars are so safe now, people can come to see the accidents and the spectacle but in the end the races are boring. In the next five years the key thing is to produce the circuits and the cars that will make for good racing. We have gone too far and somebody needs to say enough is enough. In the old days you had to measure the wing and the ride height: now you have to measure the size of the brain of the computer."
Yesterday the brain of McLaren-Mercedes was omnipotent. It made a king of Mika Hakkinen again, and left Michael Schumacher, of all people, going impotently into one of the most famous corners in Formula One. Of course there was much to admire. Hakkinen is not a twice champion by accident. He drove with panache and perfect control yesterday and no one could begrudge him the euphoria which tugged at his Finnish cool.
"It is probably difficult to understand how important this win was for me," he said with just a hint of emotion. "I wanted to win at Silverstone, an important place and missing from my black book. We had a flawless grand prix. Everything was as it has always been."
Not always, of course, but by the end of the race no one could be quite sure. Hakkinen and McLaren-Mercedes had the glory, Schumacher had his best painted-on smile and the Ferrari manager, Jean Todt, reckoned that his team had won the equivalent of an away point. So everyone was happy at various levels except, of course, those who had given up a sizeable chunk of their lives in the hope of watching a race.
1 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 25min 33.770sec (Ave speed 216.231kmh/134.40mph)
2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:26:07.416
3 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1:26:33.050
4 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW 1:27:12.542
5 K Raikkonen (Fin) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
6 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
7 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Honda +1 lap
8 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Honda +1
9 E Irvine (GB) Jaguar +1
10 J Verstappen (Neth) Arrows-Asiatech +2
11 J Alesi (Fr) Prost-Acer +2
12 P de la Rosa (Sp) Jaguar +2
13 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Renault +2
14 E Bernoldi (Br) Arrows-Asiatech +2
15 J Button (GB) Benetton-Renault +2
16 F Alonso (Spain) Minardi-European +3
R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW 36 laps completed
L Burti (Br) Prost-Acer 6 laps
D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 2
J Trulli (It) JordanHonda 0
O Panis (Fr) BAR-Honda 0
Did not qualify: T Marques (Br) Minardi-European.
Fastest lap: M Hakkinen 1min 23.405sec (221.900kph/137.87mph).
1 Ferrari 118pts
2 McLaren-Mercedes 66
3 Williams-BMW 46
4 Sauber-Petronas 19
5 Jordan-Honda 15
6 BAR-Honda 12
7 Jaguar Racing 5
8 Prost-Acer 3
9= Benetton-Renault 1
BRITISH GRAND PRIX WINNERS SINCE 1990
2001 Mika Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren (Silverstone)
2000 David Coulthard (GB) McLaren (Silverstone)
1999 David Coulthard (GB) McLaren (Silverstone)
1998 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari (Silverstone)
1997 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Williams (Silverstone)
1996 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Williams (Silverstone)
1995 Johnny Herbert (GB) Benetton (Silverstone)
1994 Damon Hill (GB) Williams (Silverstone)
1993 Alain Prost (Fr) Williams (Silverstone)
1992 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams (Silverstone)
1991 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams (Silverstone)
1990 Alain Prost (Fr) Ferrari (Silverstone)Reuse content