By rights, the major controversy of the Hungarian Grand Prix should’ve been Sebatian Vettel’s driver through penalty, handed out to the young German pilot for his putative attempt to use an accordion launch on the restart after the sole deployment of the saftey car during the race.
But no, a greater hue and cry has arisen as a result of a late race maneuver by Michael Schumacher, in which he applied a classic squeeze play against former team mate Rubens Barrichello, nearly shouldering him into the pitwall along the main straight. Barrichello was attempting a rather run-of-the-mill pass, having gotten a decent tow heading towards turn one.
But Schumacher would have none of it. He jinked to the inside line, leaving paper thin margins between his Mercedes and Barrchichello’s Williams on the Brazilian’s left, and an equally slim space between Barrichello and the pit wall on the Brazilian’s right. Schumi wasn’t just closing the door, he was slamming it in Rubinho’s face.
Barrichello immediately got on the radio and shrieked that Schumacher should be black flagged. He wasn’t. Former F1 driver Derek Warrick, who was guest steward at Hungary, later revealed that he’d been in favor of the blaga flagging, but indicated that by the time the stewards had been able to review tapes of the move it was already too late to disqualify Schumacher from the race.
Naturally, they could have diqualified his result retroactively, if Schumacher had actually had a result worth disqualifying. And therein lies one of the ironies of Schumi’s aggressive defense. He and Barricheloo were firghting for the last points paying position in the race, 10th slot. Had he successfully balked Barrichello, he might have lost the points anyway, due to his overly aggressive tactic. As it was, he was a non-points finisher, so the stewards were forced to impose a different punishment. IN the end, he was given a 10 place grid penalty for the next race, in Spa. Given how Schumacher has been qualifying lately, this could push him back to the very tail end of the grid.
Was Schumacher’s move uncalled for? Barrichello later stated it was the most hazardous defensive maneuver he’d ever had to contend with. Schumacher, on the other hand, said that, as everyone knows, he wasn’t one to give away presents. If you want to pass him, you must fight for it. But Barrichello also introduced another theme, later taken up by Derrick Warrick, namely that that Schumacher was using a drivers’ ettiquette that was essentially a product of a different era.
Schumacher’s hero when he was rising through the feeder series was Aytron Senna, a man whose technique of defending his track position was what is normall called “chicken.” He would literally aim his own car at any car attempting to pass him, and whoever flinched first lost the gambit. Senna’s rivals learned to fear him, as they kn ew he took no prisoners. Schumacher adopted this technique himself from an early point in his career.
But Barrichello, Warrick and even Schumi’s other old Ferrari team mate, Eddie Irvine, have all suggested that Schumacher is attempting to live in the past. Schumacher has apparently heard the call, as he has subsequently revised his firmly unappologetic stance, and offered a quasi apology to Barrichello, saying, essentially, that he really meant Barrichello no harm, but if the Brazilian felt that he had, he was sorry.
Of course, there’s no love lost between these two. Barrichello labored in Schumacher’s shadow for six years at Ferrari, and even though the Brazilian enjoyed more success there than he had before or has since, he nevertheless felt that he’d been forced to play the role of Schumi’s water-carrier, and he’s never forgotten it. Nor has Schumacher forgotten Barrichello’s public complaining over the situation.
If life was so bad at Ferrari, why did Barrichello stay for six years? Well, other than the fact that he was winning races, and getting rich, it’s a mystery.
So it’s been speculated that Schumi’s move was at least in part a reflection of the bad blood between the two men, and also an effort to put Barrichello in his place. I think, more to the point, is the fact that Schumacher has endured a rocky comeback season, after his three year layoff, and was fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid the humiliation of losing the final points paying slot to Barrichello.
Schumacher later agreed, in a 180 degree about face from his initial response, that his tactic had been too harsh. I think that it’s probably dawning on Schumacher that the F1 world he’s returned to isn’t quite the same F1 world that he left four hears ago. I suspect he’ll revise his game plan accordingly, not because he’s afraid of public opinion (he’s always courted controversy), but because it serves his long term goals to do so.