It’s no secret that Bernie Ecclestone is a fan of Michael Schumacher, or that he was one of the driving forces behind Schumacher’s return to F1 racing. I seriously doubt the two get together for vacations or Christmas dinner, but there’s no denying that Schumacher’s return has driven ticket sales. Less empty seats translates into a happier Bernie Ecclestone, but there’s one problem: Schumacher isn’t winning races, and he’s only beaten his teammate Nico Rosberg in Spain and Turkey. Rosberg’s got two podiums’, while Schumacher has none this season. A winning Schumi will continue to drive ticket sales; a losing Schumi will not.
After using the “he just needs more seat time” excuse to death, Ecclestone’s latest bit of wisdom is to blame Schumacher’s poor performance this season on his car. Agreeably, the Mercedes isn’t that competitive, which is why it’s currently ranked fourth in the constructor’s championship. In Ecclestone’s opinion, however, Schumacher would be winning races if he drove a Red Bull RB6. Autoevolution actually quotes Ecclestone as saying, “It’s not a question of him, but of the car. If Michael was sitting in the Red Bull, he would immediately be as he was before.”
Which, in an offhand way, proves what I’ve been saying all along. Schumacher was never a bad driver; you don’t win seven world championships without innate talent that the rest of us can only dream about. Still, I’ve always believed that one of Schumacher’s greatest skills was being in the right place at the right time. In 1994 and 1995, Schumi drove for Benneton, who dominated the F1 series. So much so that the team was investigated for the use of “illegal traction aids”, including launch control. The FIA did indeed find suspicious software, but could not prove it was used and didn’t penalize the team or drivers.
Schumacher struggled at Ferrari from 1996 to 1999. He had the 1997 championship in sight, but was ultimately disqualified for aggressive driving against Jacques Villeneuve, who ultimately won the championship. From 2000 until 2004, Ferrari was the dominant team in F1, and Schumacher racked up five of his seven world championships in this period.
The competition was different back then, and F1 was quite often a game of follow the leader, with little to no on track passing during a race. Barring mechanical failure, the driver that led into the first corner would most likely win the race. Pin it on talent or pin it on equipment, but Schumacher was very good at leading into the first corner.
So ultimately, I agree with Ecclestone, but I also agree with Sir Sterling Moss. Shumacher was a good driver who found himself in extraordinary circumstances. The longer he continues to chase an additional F1 title, the more apparent this will be.