The greatest driver never to have won a world title, Sir Stirling Moss, was often a runner up to the Maestro, Juan Manuel Fangio in the points standings. And when it comes to voicing his opinions from the sidelines during retirement, he probably runs a close second to Niki Lauda. But Moss is no slouch. This year, he hasn’t disappointed. He’s been especially vocal in his assessments of one Herr Schumacher.
Moss has never been a particular fan of the German ace. His general refrain has been that Schumacher has never been tested against a particular challenging team mate. Never mind that when Schumi entered the fray mid-season in 1991 he was immediately acquitting himself admirably against the best talent of a generation, namely Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet Sr.
It’s a fair point to make that Schumacher was generally partnered with a weaker team mate, but this is charge that could be leveled against most of the great drivers of the modern era.
There’s one glaring exception, of course. That would be the two years (1988 and 1989) when Ayrton Senna paired with Alain Prost at McLaren. Senna was a predator who aimed to destroy the best in the business, and he took the fight to the lion in his lair. He didn’t simply want to beat Prost, he wanted to make “the Professor” wish he’d never been born. The result was two years of a titanic struggle that made it seem as though there were only two cars on the track worth watching.
While the Senna-Prost rivalry ranks with the Ali-Frazier boxing contests in terms of magnitude, it was the exception, not the rule. Even the 2007 season, which saw the calamitous pairing of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, is a mere sandbox spat by comparison. Most teams, especially those with a first rank driver, have a natural pecking order. Do we discount Senna’s performances after Prost left McLaren simply because the Frenchman was replaced by Gerhard Berger, who clearly wasn’t in Senna’s class? No, Senna was still the king at the time, even if Berger never presented him with much of a challenge.
That said, it’s also true that Schumacher has failed to meet the general expectations that quickly developed in the wake of his announcement of a comeback. Moss recently offered his opinion on this to ESPNF1, saying, “People say it’s because he’s been away for three years and that sort of stuff, but I’m going to stick to what I said at the start of the season. Until now, he’s never had a truly competitive team-mate. His seven world titles are, in my mind, misleading and I think we are seeing proof of that now he is up against Rosberg. Rosberg has proved himself as the team’s No.1 and he’s been faster than Schumacher in all circumstances.”
Moss went on to say that he believes that age has taken its toll on Schumacher. He doesn’t believe that Schumacher has lost any of his native talent, but he does feel that at the ripe old age of 41 Schumacher simply doesn’t have the same motivation that he did 10 or 15 years ago.
“I’m not sure he is taking F1 as seriously as he was earlier in his career,” Moss said. “You need a compulsion to be there, you can’t just do it for fun, and I don’t think Schumacher has that compulsion anymore. To win you need to believe that there is no way anybody else can beat you and, frankly, I don’t think he’s in that kind of mindset. It seems as though this year is just part of his retirement rather than an extension of his career.”
Schumi’s old rival, Mika Hakkinen, voiced a similar concern, saying that a man of 41 has broader interests and concerns in life than a man in his early twenties, and is therefore apt to find it hard to have the obsessive focus that is sine qua non for an F1 champion.
Alain Prost alluded to the same issue in 1993, which was his comeback year at Williams. His comeback season was a one-off. He won the championship handily, and then retired from driving for good. Many will say that he finally retired because he was threatened with having Ayrton Senna as a team mate again. Senna had offered to drive for Williams for free, such was the intensity of his own obsession. But for Prost, the thought of partnering with the fiery Brazilian again was unthinkable. Senna later publicly called Prost a coward.
Publicly, Prost simply said that he was getting too old to take motor racing very seriously. He was 39 at the time, two years younger than Schumacher is now.