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Massa rates Alonso above Schumacher

Felipe Massa has struggled to match Fernando Alonso at Ferrari (Image: Ferrari)

Felipe Massa has struggled to match Fernando Alonso at Ferrari (Image: Ferrari)

Felipe Massa is in the unusual position of having been team-mate to three world champions – Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. He partnered Schumacher during the German’s last year as a Ferrari driver before he retired for the first time, then raced alongside Kimi Raikkonen for three seasons, and has spent the last four years as team-mate to Alonso. He therefore has some unique insights into how these drivers compare to each other.

Massa’s record against his three team-mates tells an interesting story. While partnering Schumacher, Massa took 3 pole positions, stood on the podium and won twice. Crucially, both of his wins were in races that Schumacher finished, illustrating that he was capable of beating Schumacher at least occasionally. But Schumacher was clearly stronger over the season, winning seven races on his way to second place in the Drivers’ Championship, while Massa finished third, 41 points behind his team-mate.

Of his three team-mates, Massa has beaten only Raikkonen over the course of a full season. In 2008, Massa lost out on the title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton while Raikkonen (who had won the 2007 championship for Ferrari) was 22 points behind Massa in third place.

Alonso arrived on the scene in 2010, at the same time that Massa returned after missing the latter part of 2009 due to injuries sustained in his horrific Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying crash. Against Alonso, Massa has failed to win a single race in almost four full seasons, while Alonso has scored 11 wins over the same period. Massa has also not taken a single pole position while Alonso has four during their time as team-mates. Alonso has twice finished runner-up in the Drivers’ Championship since joining Ferrari (and looks likely to do so for a third time this season), while Massa has not finished a season better than sixth as Alonso’s team-mate.

Massa's first team-mate at Ferrari was Michael Schumacher in 2006 (Image: Ferrari)

Massa’s first team-mate at Ferrari was Michael Schumacher in 2006 (Image: Ferrari)

It’s easy (and tempting) to blame Massa’s apparent non-performance on his 2009 accident. But what if Alonso is just that good? What if Massa has maintained the level of performance that saw him miss out on the title in 2008 by a single point, but Alonso is just so far ahead that Massa looks slow by comparison?

Massa’s own opinion on the matter is fascinating, and reveals that he considers Alonso’s superiority to be the major factor in their relative performances as team-mates. He told Sky Sports F1‘s Martin Brundle:

“For sure I’ve had some tough times as well with strong team-mates. The one [I] was suffering more [against] was Alonso. I think maybe he’s more complete.

“Schumacher was very, very good. He was amazing and a very complete driver as well. But I think maybe Alonso is even more perfect.”

In 2014, Alonso will once again be paired with driver who is considered one of the best in the sport, when Kimi Raikkonen joins Ferrari. If Massa is correct that Alonso is even more complete than Schumacher, then Raikkonen might struggle against Alonso. After all, Massa did outpace Raikkonen in 2008, but he has never come close to beating Alonso over a season.

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1996 Italian Grand Prix: Schumacher masters Monza

Ferrari F1 (1996)

The Ferrari in which Michael Schumacher won the 1996 Italian Grand Prix (Photo credit: Greg Marshall)

If you want to be loved by the Tifosi (Ferrari fans), you must win at Monza in a Ferrari. Schumacher did so at his first attempt, in the 1996 Italian Grand Prix. It was not a likely victory.

Throughout the 1996 season, Ferrari had struggled with unreliability. In the 13 races preceding the Italian Grand Prix, Schumacher had retired six times, five due to failures on the car. The most embarrassing of the retirements came in France, where Schumacher’s Ferrari engine failed on the warm-up lap, before the race had even begun.

Schumacher had won twice already in 1996. First in Spain in torrential rain, where he produced arguably one of the greatest drives in the history of Formula One. Then in Belgium, where tactics and a quick and unusually reliable Ferrari helped him to his second victory of the season.

Schumacher qualified third for the Italian Grand Prix, as usual just behind the Williams pair of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. A poor start from Schumacher put him down to sixth place by the end of the first lap, and gave him plenty of work to do if he wanted to achieve a good result at Ferrari’s home race.

David Coulthard, who was running fifth for McLaren, was soon out of Schumacher’s way and beached in the gravel trap at the Roggia chicane. Schumacher then set about attacking Jacques Villeneuve for fourth position. He swept by the Canadian’s Williams into the Ascari chicane and then chased after the leading trio of Hill, Alesi and Hakkinen.

On lap 3, Hakkinen clipped a heap of tyres that had been placed on the apex of one of the chicanes to prevent drivers from cutting the corners (an astoundingly dangerous strategy by the stewards) and damaged his front wing, making him vulnerable to Schumacher who was closing quickly. Schumacher looked for a way past during the fourth lap, but could not get close enough to the McLaren in a straight line and had to wait until Hakkinen peeled off into the pits at the end of the lap for a front wing change. Now in third place after four laps, Schumacher chased after Alesi in second and Hill in the lead.

Lap 6 saw the sudden and unexpected retirement of Damon Hill. In a momentary lapse of concentration, Hill hit the tyres on the right-hand part of the second Retiffilo chicane, breaking the front suspension of his Williams and spinning him into retirement. Hill’s accident gifted the lead to Alesi and promoted Schumacher to second place.

Within a few laps, Schumacher had inched his way up to the back of Jean Alesi‘s Benetton and was pressuring for the lead. But Alesi held his own well, keeping Schumacher behind until it was time for Alesi to peel off into the pits and take on a fresh set of tyres and fuel to last until the end of the race. Schumacher stayed out, taking over the lead at the end of the 31st lap to the delight of the Ferrari fans, and began to push, delivering the fastest lap of the race the next time round.

On lap 33, Schumacher pitted for his one and only fuel and tyre stop. He had been pushing hard to make up ground on Alesi, and it paid off. Schumacher emerged from the pit lane well clear of Alesi’s Benetton, and the Italian crowd rose to their feet with joy at having a Ferrari out in front at Monza.

From that point on, Schumacher had only to keep going to take his first Italian Grand Prix victory. He was comfortably faster than Alesi, even without pushing, which meant only a mistake or mechanical failure could come between him and victory. But the drama was not quite over yet. Several drivers had retired or had to pit for new front wings after clipping the tyres that were sitting at each apex of the chicanes. With just over 10 laps remaining in the race, Schumacher clipped the tyre stack with his left front tyre in the first Retiffilo chicane. Fortunately, there was no major damage, just a small vibration that disappeared as the race went on. But it was a close call for Schumacher, and he gave the tyres a wide berth for the rest of the race.

Supporters de Ferrari lors du Grand Prix de Mo...

Ferrari fans celebrate Michael Schumacher’s win at Monza in 1996 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schumacher held on to win the race by 18 seconds from Jean Alesi, and set the fastest lap of the race with 3 laps to go. Mika Hakkinen finished third for McLaren. It was the first Ferrari win at Monza since Gerhard Berger won in 1988, and was the first of five wins for Schumacher at the historic circuit.

After the race, Schumacher was visibly jubilant on the podium as he took in the scene of thousands of Ferrari fans crowding towards him on the main straight of Monza. Afterwards, he described the experience of standing on the Monza podium:

“I have never seen such emotion. It’s crazy. It is only possible in Italy. It’s fantastic. You get goose bumps everywhere. They have waited a long time for this and they deserve it.”

Michael Schumacher would experience the thrill of victory at Monza another four times in his career – in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 – and would never win the Italian Grand Prix in any car other than a Ferrari.

Click here to watch the full race.

Schumacher not interested in TV pundit role

In recent years, a number of Formula One drivers have turned to TV commentary in their retirement. Michael Schumacher does not look set to join them.

Martin Brundle, David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill are among the well-known names of Formula One racing who will feature in British Formula One coverage this season. Their expertise will certainly add to the experience of watching the BBC and Sky English language feeds throughout the world. Perhaps German broadcasters would like to have a similar offering in their home language.

Schumacher retired from Formula One for the second time at the end of 2012, which makes him an obvious target for any broadcaster looking to improve its offering by adding a driver expert to its panel of experts. As the most successful driver in Formula One history, Schumacher would have invaluable insights into what goes on in the cockpit and, perhaps more importantly, could provide detailed understanding of race strategy – after all, he and technical genius Ross Brawn used brilliant strategies to their advantage during Ferrari’s dominant period from 2000 to 2004.

But the seven-time champion is not interested in joining the media. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, he said he would rather spend time at home with his family, which he was unable to do as much as he might have liked during his long racing career.  And, as he himself has said, why would he go into commentating if he were following the Formula One circus around the world? Driving would be more fun.

Schumacher has spent his time since retiring assisting his wife Corinna, who breeds horses and markets her own range of horse blankets. But while he is not maintaining any active involvement in Formula One, his interest in the sport remains. He will be watching the opening race on Sunday from his home in Switzerland. He thinks “the season’s going to be really tight.” Let’s hope he’s right.

Di Resta: Schumi’s “a pain in the ****”

Paul di Resta has, quite unexpectedly and very publicly, criticised seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. The young Scot was being interviewed at AUTOSPORT International 2013 and described how Schumacher had gone from being a childhood hero to a nuisance for him in the following words:

English: Formula One 2011 Rd.2 Malaysian GP: M...

Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) overtaking Paul di Resta (Force India) in Malaysia 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I had so much respect and he was my hero and all the rest, and eventually I got to race against him. Now… I feel a bit different about Michael, cos I’m quite glad he’s retired and out of the way… cos he’s a bit of a pain in the **** on the track…”

Di Resta’s comments appear to be completely unprovoked. Yes, he has raced against Schumacher for the past two seasons, but in that time there have been no particular incidents between the two drivers – if there had, they would surely have been dealt with some time ago.

Perhaps di Resta’s comments were simply badly phrased. Schumacher was known throughout his career as an extremely tough driver who pushed the limits of what was fair on the track, something he learned from drivers like Ayrton Senna who was the man to beat when Schumacher’s career started. It paid off in terms of results, but did not make Schumacher many friends among the drivers. Di Resta could simply be referring to Schumacher as a difficult man to beat, in the process highlighting two different approaches to on-track combat from two generations.

Di Resta and Schumacher are on opposite ends of the scale in terms of Formula One success. Schumacher is Formula One’s most successful driver in history, an icon all over the world and one of the most recognisable and respected people in world sport. Di Resta by contrast is a young driver with much potential, but he has yet to have the equipment to show what he can do in Formula One – in two seasons at Force India, he has a best result of fourth at the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.

Di Resta may not appreciate sharing the track with Schumacher, but he could learn from the seven-time World Champion. Schumacher has not concerned himself with being popular on the track. Instead, he spent his career leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of victory, and that included the cultivation of a tough and ultra-professional image that was certainly present on the track. The results of Schumacher’s approach to winning are likely to remain unchallenged for some time – seven championships and 91 race victories are numbers that even those at the front of the current grid can barely imagine reaching.

The video of the interview is shown below. Di Resta’s comments about Schumacher start at about 01:27:

Could 2013 be the year of Hamilton?

With testing for the 2013 Formula One season just four weeks away, it is perhaps time for some speculation as to which teams and drivers are likely to launch strong championship campaigns this year. The usual suspects – Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren as well as their respective drivers – are the obvious choices for title contenders, but there is increasing support for the idea that Mercedes could feature well, particularly with Lewis Hamilton in one of their cars.

A few weeks ago, prominent motorsport journalist Peter Windsor expressed his view that the combination of Mercedes and Hamilton should have a strong 2013, and in the last few days Michael Schumacher – the now-retired seven-time World Champion who has been replaced at Mercedes by Hamilton – stated that he believes the team structure is strong and should enable the team to move forward.

The Sun quoted Schumacher as saying, “In the first two years we definitely did not have the capability to fight on several fronts… If there were problems we had to take care of them so the development process was interrupted… Only now is there a structure that enables both. It’s a strong structure for 2013 and beyond.”

Hamilton himself has played down suggestions that he could be fighting for victory in 2013 on a regular basis. In December 2012, Hamilton said to Sky Sports News, “I think 2014 has to be the most important year – or the most competitive year – but I don’t see why we can’t try to clinch a few podiums. If we can get some wins next year [2013] … if it just happens to go really, really well then we’ll be smiling, but we’ll see.”

Hamilton’s move from McLaren to struggling Mercedes was met with mixed reactions, with some commentators suggesting that it could be a massive mistake. He will no doubt be intent on proving his doubters wrong, which can only work in Mercedes’ favour as it will add extra motivation to his already significant talent. It would certainly be quite a story for Hamilton to turn Mercedes around and take the title in his first season with the team.

Autosprint ranks Fangio first

Motorsport journalists periodically take on the near-impossible task of producing lists of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. Invariably Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna feature high up on the list, with the remaining spots varying depending on who is involved in ranking the drivers.

Italian magazine Autosprint has produced a list of the top ten Formula One drivers, which places Fangio first ahead of Schumacher. Interestingly, the only current driver in the list (Schumacher is no longer current, having retired at the end of 2012) is newly-crowned triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Autosprint list reads as follows:

1. Juan Manuel Fangio
2. Michael Schumacher
3. Sir Jackie Stewart
4. Ayrton Senna
5. Jim Clark
6. Alain Prost
7. Sir Stirling Moss
8. Alberto Ascari
9. Niki Lauda
10. Sebastian Vettel

Each of the drivers listed has, in some way, redefined the sport within his era. Of those on the list, the only driver not to have won the World Championship is Sir Stirling Moss, who raced alongside Fangio at Mercedes in 1955 and finished second in the World Championship for four consecutive seasons from 1955 to 1958.

Of the current crop of drivers, 2005 and 2006 Champion Fernando Alonso is perhaps the most likely to break into this list, although he would certainly need to win the World Championship with Ferrari to do so.

Germany wins 6th successive Race of Champions

For the sixth year in succession, the German team of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel has won the Race of Champions Nations Cup. This year’s victory was the result of a 2-0 thrashing of team France in the final.

Germany really does have the dream team of all dream teams – the most successful of all Formula One drivers and the newly crowned triple Formula One World Champion. So it comes as no surprise that Schumacher and Vettel won yet again. Their dominance in the final is perhaps a little surprising, considering who they were up against.

Team France consisted of Sebastain Ogier (2011 individual event Race of Champions winner) and Romain Grosjean who is a current Formula One driver and has displayed significant speed in the this year’s Formula One World Championship. But they had no answer to Germany – Schumacher dispatched Grosjean in the first heat of the final and Vettel won the “battle of the Sebs” in heat two to seal the team victory.

The Nations Cup took place yesterday, but the action is not over. Today sees the drivers compete in the individual Race of Champions, a title neither Schumacher nor Vettel has ever won although Schumacher has lost in the final twice. Vettel has not yet featured in a RoC individual final.

Today’s individual event sees drivers compete in groups before the top driver proceed to a knock-out stage. The groups are as follows:

Group A:
Sebastian Ogier – World Rally Championship and 2011 RoC winner
Jamie Whincup – Four time V8 Supercar Champion
David Coulthard – 13 F1 Grand Prix victories
Benito Guerra – 2012 Production World Rally Champion

Group B:
Tom Kristensen – eight time Le Mans 24-hour winner
Andy Priaulx – three time World Touring Car Champion
Ho-Pin Tung – F1 test driver and fastest RoC Asia qualifier
Nattavude Charoensukawattana – RoC Thailand winner

Group C:
Sebastian Vettel – triple F1 World Champion
Jorge Lorenzo – double MotoGP World Champion
Mick Doohan – five time 500cc MotoGP World Champion
Tin Sritrai – RoC Thailand runner-up

Group D:
Michael Schumacer – seven time F1 World Champion
Ryan Hunter-Reay – 2012 Indycar Series Champion
Kazuya Ohshima – Second fastest RoC Asia qualifier
Romain Grosjean – Current F1 driver with three 2012 podiums

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