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

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