Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix marks the end of the 2012 Formula One season, and with it the end of the most remarkable career in the history of the sport. Michael Schumacher is retiring, this time for good.
Schumacher’s stats leading up to his final race are:
Grands Prix: 307
World Championships: 7 (1994-1995, 2000-2004)
Pole Positions: 68
Fastest Laps: 77
Career Points: 1560
Aside from the number of races entered (Rubens Barrichello holds the record with 326), all of those stats are records and most are likely to stand for the foreseeable future. In particular, Schumacher’s dominance with Ferrari, where he won five consecutive titles, will likely never be matched.
Schumacher retired from Formula One at the end of 2006, only to make a comeback in 2010 with Mercedes at the age of 41. The combination of Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Mercedes seemed, on paper, to be unbeatable. But it was not to be. A single podium finish – in Valencia this season – and the fastest qualifying time in Monaco are the high points of Schumacher’s three years with the Silver Arrows. And the pole position did not even count, as Schumacher had a penalty that demoted him to sixth on the grid.
Schumacher’s comeback can only be described as a failure, in that he has not achieved anything remotely like the success of his previous stint in Formula One. But it has certainly not been a waste of time. Seeing the biggest name in the sport come back and go wheel-to-wheel with drivers half his age has been enormously positive for Formula One. It has also shown a more relaxed and accessible Michael Schumacher to the world, a welcome contrast to the ultra-professional and sometimes cold Michael Schumacher of his first career.
Unfortunately, the sport’s most successful driver is unlikely to add to his success on Sunday. The current Mercedes car is far off the pace, so much so that the team has not featured in the points for the last five races. It would be a fitting end to a glittering career if Schumacher could stand on the podium on Sunday, but that seems impossible given the performance of the car. The only glimmer of hope for a strong result is the predicted wet weather, which could negate some of the weaknesses of the car.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will mark the end of an era. By any reckoning, Schumacher is the greatest driver in the history of the sport. He will leave a gap on the grid that cannot possibly be filled, and his absence will certainly be felt in years to come.
Rain can play havoc with the time-sheets, and today was no exception. Free Practice 2 was so wet that only 10 drivers set laptimes, and all of those laps were finished after the chequered flag fell. When the spray settled, Marussia’s Charles Pic emerged quickest.
Practice times are normally difficult to interpret, as the top teams often do not reveal their true pace until qualifying. Today’s laptimes are, as a result of the weather, practically meaningless. Marussia certainly do not have the fastest car. Pic’s time reveals nothing at all about the pace of the Marussia, although he will no doubt appreciate (and probably chuckle at) having his name at the top of the time-sheets.
The rain effectively made today’s running useless for all of the teams. No useful dry setup work could be done in the difficult conditions, and that includes testing of new parts. Lotus in particular will be frustrated by the lack of dry running, as they had intended to run their new “double” DRS device this weekend, but have had to abandon that plan due to a lack of calibration time.
Only one practice session remains before qualifying, which means that tomorrow morning should see a very crowded track as all of the teams and drivers attempt to cram 2 days work into the one hour session that is FP3. Ideally, that should mean a very close qualifying session, weather permitting.
On Saturday, I had my first wet weather racing experience. A 125 superkart, slick tyres, and a very wet Killarney race-track in the morning presented a somewhat steep learning curve.
The kart is small and the track is big, which makes avoiding the large puddles quite easy. So aquaplaning was not a problem. The major issue was tyre temperature. Getting heat into the front tyres is essential to limit the inevitable understeer that occurs in the wet. Rear tyre temperature is essential for traction. But temperature proved elusive.
Until Saturday, I had no proper comprehension of the importance of rear tyre temperature. It became apparent in a straight line, at half throttle (maybe a little less) in third gear, when the power came in and the rear wheels spun up. The kart went a bit sideways, but a small correction sorted that out. Nonetheless, my eyes were opened.
Before getting out on the wet track, I had expeceted to be fighting the back end of the kart under acceleration and braking. The reality was that there was so little grip with cold tyres that I didn’t have the confidence to put the power down or brake hard.
In the dry on a warm day, driving smoothly has proven beneficial. It minimises driver effort, wear on the tyres and fuel consumption, and allows for incremental improvement in laptime as confidence builds. In the wet, that approach is useless, resulting in cold tyres, cold brakes, and no way of rectifying that situation. What is required in the wet on slicks is some aggressive, almost reckless warming of the rear tyres, and a complete lack of fear of spinning. Only then will there be enough temperature available in the tyres to attack the race-track.
At this point, it’s worthwhile talking about Formula One drivers. They drive in the wet, with over 750 horse-power available, and immediately get the maximum available out of the car in the conditions. Andallof them do it. In the dry, the difference in laptimes between the drivers is a few tenths. In the wet it’s the same, which is frankly astonishing. Occasionally a genius like Ayrton Senna makes everyone else looks silly, but such talent in the wet is the exception.
Driving a racing car is not easy. Formula One drivers just make it look simple because they’re that good at what they do. I’m an amateur driver, racing for fun, but the limited experience I’ve had on the track has already shown me just how incredibly talented F1 drivers are.