Gerhard Berger, former F1 driver for Ferrari, McLaren and Benetton, former director of motorsport for BMW, and former co-owner of the Toro Rosso Formula 1 team, has come out with a defense of Michael Schumacher’s squeeze play move against Rubens Barrichello at the Hungaroring.
Berger recently told the Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung that during his active days as a driver, which overlapped with Schumacher’s, the standards for rough play were quite a bit different than they are today.
“We drove harder and more brutally,” Berger said. “Three times a lap we drove each other into the walls without complaining. This was just part of it. We would have thought nothing of an action like Michael’s against Barrichello.”
Ayrton Senna was probably the benchmark driver for an era that also embraced the careers of such drivers as Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Michael Schumacher himself. Although the drivers of today exhibit a high watermark of talent (Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Massa, Rosberg, Vettel, Webber and Schumacher again, as group, set an exceptionally high standard), arguably the drivers of Berger’s era were of a different caliber. Or, at least, the standards of drivers’ etiquette were different.
In a tough era, Senna was probably the toughest driver of them all. His idea of blocking was simply to aim his car at whoever was trying to overtake him. Sometimes it ended in tears. Usually, the other driver backed down.
It should be remembered that this is the era in which Michael Schumacher cut his teeth. Ayrton Senna was his idol. He modeled his style on Senna’s in many ways. The move that Schumi pulled on Rubinho in Hungary was easily something that Senna might have done.
The problem, of course, is that the era of Senna, et al, is over. The code of behavior has changed, and when Barrichello threw a hissy fit in Hungary, the rest of the F1 community seemed to be in agreement with him.
And while Berger’s comments seem to be a defense of Schumacher, they could also be taken as an affirmation that Schumacher is a bit of a throwback. As if to underscore the notion that Schumi might be a bit past his shelf date, Berger went on to evaluate Schumi’s general performance thus far in his comeback season.
When asked if Schumacher might win a record eighth drivers’ title, Berger said, “Before the season I would have answered this question with a resounding yes. Today I have to say no. His teammate Nico Rosberg clearly has his nose in front. Michael is trying to counter Nico’s youthfulness by pulling tricks out of his bag of experience, but it’s not working. His team-mate is faster, and he has to learn how to deal with it.”