Two icons, but who is the bully and who's a gent?
Schumacher's win-at-all-costs mentality leaves many cold but it's impossible not to warm to the emotional, passionate Rossi
Sunday 22 August 2010
Two of motorsport's greatest legends, Michael Schumacher and Valentino Rossi, have come under the microscope during the summer.
Both are multiple champions widely regarded as the modern-day greats of their sports. The Italian may have a way to go to catch the winning tally of the great Giacomo Agostini, whereas the German surpassed Juan Manuel Fangio long ago, but in many ways they are very similar despite a 10-year age gap (41 to 31).
In their heyday they were their respective sports' yardsticks. Each has survived with only a broken leg apiece to show for their derring-do, though where Rossi came back within six weeks, Schumacher angered the Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo by playing football long before he reluctantly declared himself fit to return to the cockpit in support of his team-mate Eddie Irvine's World Championship campaign.
Therein lies one of their crucial differences. Rossi might not have been all that enamoured to have Jorge Lorenzo as his team-mate, especially this year, but there has never been a stage where he has insisted, as Schumacher always has, that his team-mate should be a stooge, there purely to help his own quest for greatness.
And, as we were so forcibly reminded at the last race in Hungary, Schumacher is prepared to do things on the track that Rossi, a gentleman at all times, would never remotely countenance. The German was panned by his critics after pushing his former Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello within an inch of a major accident at almost 190mph.
Sir Jackie Stewart, the cleanest of the clean, said: "It was one of the most blatant abuses of another driver that I have seen. It is a terrible example from a man who has seven world titles – bully-boy tactics." Fellow triple champion Niki Lauda said: "To endanger another competitor in such a way is totally unnecessary. I cannot understand why he does those things."
TV commentator Martin Brundle, Schumacher's Benetton team-mate in 1992, said: "He has never been able to differentiate between hard racing and what's beyond a reasonable line, and clearly he still can't."
At the time Schumacher shrugged it off. But then he was pressured into making an apology that was as hollow as the one he offered to Damon Hill back in Adelaide in 1994, after he had made an unforced error and crashed his Benetton and then turfed the Briton off the road just as the Williams driver was poised to snatch away the World Championship title.
Rossi (below) and Schumacher differ not just on the win-at-all-costs philosophy, but also their knowledge of and passion for their sport. We should never forget that moment of monumental ignorance and arrogance at Magny-Cours in 1999 when Schumacher and Irvine finished first and second for Ferrari in the French Grand Prix, and Schumacher said crassly: "I do not know if this has happened before." Scuderia Ferrari had been in the World Championship since its inauguration in 1950, with drivers of the calibre of Alberto Ascari, Froilan Gonzales, Fangio, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn, Phil Hill, John Surtees, Chris Amon, Jacky Ickx, Clay Regazzoni, Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Gilles Villeneuve, Jody Scheckter, Rene Arnoux, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. And, yes, they had indeed managed many one-twos.
Even this year, when his much-vaunted comeback at Mercedes has been a disaster, Schumacher exudes a haughty coldness, whereas Rossi is warm and emotional about his racing. When it was finally announced that he was leaving Yamaha for Ducati, he waxed lyrical about the Yamaha M1 which had taken him to four of his World Championships as he tried to explain his inner feelings.
"It is very difficult to explain in just a few words what my relationship with Yamaha has been in these past seven years," Rossi said. "Many things have changed since that far-off time in 2004, but especially 'she', my M1, has changed. At that time she was a poor middle-grid position MotoGP bike, derided by most of the riders and the MotoGP workers. Now, after having helped her to grow and improve, you can see her smiling in her garage, courted and admired, treated as the 'top of the class'.
"Now the moment has come to look for new challenges; my work here at Yamaha is finished. Unfortunately even the most beautiful love stories finish, but they leave a lot of memories, like when my M1 and I kissed for the first time on the grass at Welkom, when she looked straight in my eyes and told me 'I love you'!" How can you not love a guy who expresses himself in such a poetic way?
Looking to the future, Schumacher said recently: "The fact is that I feel comfortable in the situation and I believe that we are moving in the right direction to ensure that next year we will be real contenders."
Rossi, who has never had a problem praising other competitors, said that in Ducati's general manager Filippo Preziosi he sees much of what he did in Yamaha's outgoing boss, Masao Furusawa, in 2004 and is optimistic about what lies ahead. "Yamaha have great riders, especially Lorenzo, but also [Ben] Spies is fast. So it looks like for me here, the time is finished. I need a new adventure, some new experience, but especially a new motivation. So I decided for Ducati. Filippo wants me and trusts in me and he thinks that together we can improve the Ducati. So I'm curious."
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two icons these days is that when Michael Schumacher and Valentino Rossi speak of great times still ahead, Rossi is the one you believe.
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