Many excuses have been offered to explain Michael Schumacher’s lackluster performance during his comeback season in 2010, but perhaps the strangest of all has now been released by Mercedes GP. They now claim that the team’s simulator makes Schumi carsick.
According to the team, “Throughout his career, Michael from time to time has been susceptible to simulator sickness which has affected the length of time that he can spend on a simulator. This is a relatively common occurrence for many people in all fields of simulator activity including military, aircraft and racing cars. Michael has not been disadvantaged as together with his engineers he has made his simulation work effective.”
Sound like a stretch? Maybe. But the fact is, during his former stints with Benetton and Ferrari, Schumi was a tireless tester. He was well known for his methodical work habits, and many have cited his methodical approach to testing, tuning and developing the car as being instrumental to his former success. Flash forward to the current environment, where most real world testing is banned. Once the pre-season testing has been completed, testing is either completed in short spurts during race weekends, or is conducted in the virtual world, in simulators.
Clearly, this situation has worked to Schumacher’s disadvantage. Meanwhile, his team mate Nico Rosberg, who belongs to a different generation than Schumacher (he was probably playing with computer sims before he ever drove a real car in anger), has thrived in this environment. As reported on ESPNF1, a source close to the team said, “Nico spends a lot of time in the simulator preparing the car for the grand prix weekends.” As a result, Rosberg has done a good deal of his setup preparation before he ever hits the track on a given race weekend.
On the other hand, according to the source, “Michael begins with a basic setting…is one of quite a few very good reasons why Schumacher was sometimes at a disadvantage to Rosber.” In other words, Nico’s work in the sim allows him to steal the march on Schumi. So while it might sound like a lot of excuse-making, it’s a fairly nuts and bolts explanation of why Schumacher faced a struggle in getting up to speed during the previous season. The fact of the matter is, the sport he returned to isn’t the same one he left at the end of 2006.
And as the technology of the sport becomes more sophisticated, the pace at which it develops increases. Surely a three year hiatus wouldn’t have presented as much of a problem to a driver, at least on a technical level, as it does today. If Jackie Stewart had made a comeback in 1977, he probably would have had to play a less challenging game of catch-up. Of course, he would have been only 37, or roughly the same age as Schumi when he retired for the first time, and younger than Rubens Barrichello is now, who has yet to retire.
But Formula 1 is the most challenging form of motor racing on the planet, and as Schumacher himself is the first to admit, it’s not the club you should join if you prefer to be coddled. As far as the simulator story is concerned, my question isn’t whether or not it’s legitimate; rather, it’s why the team decided to release it to the general public. Did they feel we needed yer another explanation for Schumacher’s struggles in 2010? Or are they trying to reduce expectations for 2011? Of course, the team qualified their remarks by insisting that Schumacher had not been “disadvantaged” by the situation, but if that’s the case, then why mention it at all?