Monday, October 09, 2006


It's been a long time since I was so gutted. The more the smoke puffed out of the back of Schumi's (not Michael, not Schumacher) Ferrari, the lower my heart sank - the only consolation being that it happened pretty quickly, leaving just a numb feeling in its wake. I had shared these losing moments of my icons' lives before - Steffi losing to Seles in the French Open final, Becker unable to handle Sampras' booming serves in his last US Open, and the perennial under-achieving Indian Cricket team losing the final of the 2003 World Cup. But this moment was something special, yes, I am making the right choice of word here, as during its harrowing minutes I realized that being a sports fan is not just about celebrating in the triumphs and getting that heady feeling.

I have been a Schumi fan for a decade now. It is true that he got a little bit overshadowed in my adulation by two other German greats, but since the late 90's I have held an unwavering interest in Schumi and Team Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro (just not the same without the latter part). And even though I had my fair share of a sports fan's disappointments, this was the hardest one yet. But now when I reflect back on those moments and the depressing aftermath, watching Schumi consoling his team in the pit garage, I realized that I have transcended my own personal benchmark of adulation, and elevated Schumi to a pedestal where he stands alone.

As a kid, I used to diligently buy a sports weekly magazine called the "Sportstar". Since we did not have cable in the early-90s in India, Sportstar was my only window to a sport called 'Formula 1 Motor Racing'. And even in those years of infancy I must have a knack of picking out favorites, when amongst a spattering of the sport's stars - Prost, Mansell, Hill, etc., I picked out a certain Senna as my "favorite". Through the above magazine, I used to keep in touch with the happenings in the sport and as to how many points Senna garnered over the weekend. Unfortunately, the wins were not that hard to come by given the strength of the Williams-Renault team in 92 and 93. I shared Senna's elation at making the switch at the beginning of 94 to Williams and looked forward or, rather read about it with a tinge of excitement. The rest, as the say, is history - Senna was killed in Imola and a certain Michael Schumacher won the world championship.

I then stopped following the sport as diligently as before, maybe it was because of the shock of Senna's death or maybe, it was because the sport lacked those larger than life icons; most probably it was due to Steffi and hence the dominance of tennis in my sporting radar. But F1 did not take a long time in making a comeback in my life. Maybe it was one of the glossy posters, that Sportstar used to come with, of Ferrari or maybe, it was due to all the news about a certain M. Schumacher, I do not quite recall, but I started following the sport again. Reading about a team called Ferrari, which not only makes the best and most exclusive road cars in the world, but also has a proud racing pedigree, and was now trying to rebuild its team with a certain world champion fascinated me. And so I now started to wallow in the ups and downs (there were more of the latter) of Michael and Ferrari.

The years from 96 to 99 were frustrating. Seeing the Williams and the McLaren win and Ferrari missing out by a whisker or more every year was enough to test the patience of a fan like me. But somehow, the thought never crossed my mind to switch my allegiance to a superior team and derive vicarious pleasures from its achievements. It was Ferrari or nothing. And when Michael broke his leg in 99 it was absolutely the pits, though the consolation was that Ferrari won the Constructor's Championship. Obviously, the years from 2000 onwards were the "golden years", ESPN/Star Sports telecasted every race live, and after years of disappointments it was great to bask in Michael's race wins and championships which transformed him into "Schumi" - which roughly translates to, "like no one else".

To those who hate Schumi and say that he used illegal tactics or, claim that he was not a great sportsman and that the FIA rigged races and championships, I have nothing to say, as no matter what arguments are put forth, they will never get convinced and are more than welcome to wallow in their own self-inflicted miseries. But I do have two points of views here - from a fan's and a layman's. To an outsider, a driver who has rewritten the history of the sport and who has given a whole new meaning to the word "perfection" cannot really be a prick as he is made out to be. There must be something in the man and his machine that should make us doff our hats and salute the genius. For a Schumi fan, is there any aspect to the man and to the team that is not worth admiring or, emulating? Is domination of a sport really such a bad thing? If the races were termed "boring" during the era of Schumi's dominance, is it his fault or, should it be blamed on the other teams and be an incentive for them to raise their game? How can people even make these inane arguments, after we consider the blood and sweat, and the years of commitment that Schumi and Ferrari put in and the long barren years they had to face? It is glaring example to all those so-called "stars" of sports as to how to make a commitment and then stick by it, raising yourself and your teammates to levels they would not have thought possible. Schumi is one of those elite few. Schumi educated me and millions of sports fan around the world in these aspects that we so easily overlook behind the glitz and the glamour. Has there ever been a race in which Schumi won and has not publicly thanked the team? Even in 2005, when clearly the car was not competitive and the team was struggling, one could never find Schumi laying the fault at the team's garage door. I could go on, but there are better writers and more technically-equipped columnists to argue Schumi's case, not that he needs one in the first place.

Watching Schumi's despondent figure going back to the team garage was hard enough, but what was harder was to look at the eyes of the pit crew behind those red Ferrari masks, which hid their expressions. Their eyes said it all. Most of those crew members are not even publicly named and credited nor do they get their pictures taken for the Formula 1 magazine, but their drive to win the WC for Schumi evenly matched the man's own. Similarly, the figures of Ross Brawn and the engineers on the pit wall with their hands on their heads, oblivious to the fact that a race was still going on, was for me, one of the images of the F1 sport. And yes, I am including all those jumping in the air, directing the Italian anthem, moments over here. This moment said it all, and made me proud to be a Ferrari fan. As I said before, it is in adversity that the true mettle of a person comes out and in this case the feelings of the Ferrari team. Seeing Schumi walk up to every team member, say a kind word, and yet keeping a smiling face, just killed me, and that was the moment that I realized that only Schumi could have achieved and now acted as he did, and for me he was and will remain my icon.

Thanks Schumi, for the memories and for giving me and legions of your fans the opportunity to witness greatness @200+ mph. F1 will live on, Ferrari's time will pass, there will be future champions and greats of the sport, but there shall always be #1 Schumi. Schumi, its been an honor and a privilege.

A Schumi Fan