WIN AT ALL COSTS
VERSTAPPEN IS UNCOMPROMISING, JUST LIKE SCHUMACHER BEFORE HIM. IF HE SEES AN INCH, HE WILL TAKE A FOOT – INSTINCT OVER THOUGHT; TOUGH YET THRILLING TO WATCH
The quest to find an advantage over the opposition doesn’t stop with fitness, a great team spirit and a relentless work ethic. There is also a ferocious competitive spirit that pushes the greatest drivers further – and can even take them beyond the limit.
Former F1 racer Anthony Davidson saw first-hand the lengths Fernando Alonso would go to as he prepared for his Le Mans debut with Toyota. During testing, in the dead of night, he spotted Alonso hanging over the balcony filming a driver change in the pits on his phone, so he could analyse it later and feed back to the team any room for improvement.
“It’s that kind of approach and attention to detail that makes you a multiple world champion in Formula 1,” says Davidson. “That’s the difference.”
Beyond that, there’s a ruthless streak that manifests itself in most of the true greats. The on-track ‘give no-quarter’ mentality became synonymous with Ayrton Senna’s driving style and was only amplified by Schumacher. The ‘win at all costs’ tactics resulted in world title-deciding collisions, memorably with Damon Hill at Adelaide in 1994 and Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in ’97. One went Michael’s way, the other didn’t. But the mindset was identical and never left him. Indeed, he created an on-track persona that served to intimidate other drivers and he wasn’t afraid to go beyond accepted limits – think of him shoving Rubens Barrichello into the pitwall in Hungary in 2010. A high-speed crash was avoided by mere inches.
Think those days are gone? Not a bit of it, as Esteban Ocon, who admires Schumacher’s aggression, explains: “He was amazing,” says Ocon, a driver who made on-track contact with his team-mate Sergio Pérez three times last season. “What do you want me to say? Today you have to be a professional driver, but back then, when I was watching, I thought that what he did was amazing. He was a gladiator. He was fighting for his position on the track.”
The driver who today most obviously flirts with the limits of acceptable driving behaviour – and has likewise been accused of going beyond it on the race track – is Max Verstappen. Like Michael before him, Max is not afraid to intimidate his rivals wheel-towheel, moving under braking and stretching the limits of the circuit to overtake. In fact his moves tested the limits of the rulebook to the extent that the FIA acted to clarify what was acceptable and introduced in late 2016 the so-called ‘Verstappen rule’, which banned the practice of “moving under braking” – although this was later rescinded.
In 2017, Verstappen overtook Räikkönen for third place on the last lap at Turn 17 at Austin, but cut the corner and was subsequently demoted from the podium with a five-second time penalty .“there are parallels between Max and Michael,” agrees Pat Symonds. “We see that talent and competitive spirit. Max, like Michael, doesn’t see boundaries where other people see boundaries. That last-lap overtake on Kimi in Austin… a more conservative driver might have realised that they couldn’t use that bit of track; Max just does it.”
Verstappen is uncompromising, just like Schumacher before him. If he sees an inch, he will take a foot – instinct over thought; tough, yet thrilling to watch. But what Michael did after his race wins was significant. He had no qualms about reminding his enemies who was better, throwing himself around on the podium, effectively leaping into a rival’s face to hammer home: ‘I’m fitter than you, I’m faster than you, I’m better than you.’
“Some of what Michael did was about undermining the enemy and destroying their confidence,” muses Ross Brawn. “Michael would be on the rostrum with two guys wilting, barely able to stand up, and he’d be bouncing around and they would be looking at him thinking: ‘God, what on earth is this creature we’re competing with?’”
Some drivers push the limits further than others. And in this respect, Michael’s historic ruthlessness can be seen reflected in Max Verstappen’s merciless approach
The baton of Michael’s fighting spirit has been passed to Fernando Alonso, a driver renowned for consistently outperforming his machinery