Monday, September 18, 2006

Forever Champion - Farewell to The Greatest Ever

Some 13 years ago, for the very first time, I saw on my television a young man in blue and green overalls, pulling off one of the most fantastic moves I had ever seen. It was the moment that marked the beginning of an addiction that I thought I’d never lose. For the next 13 years, for 16-18 Sundays a year, I was glued to my seat for two hours of electrifying entertainment…seeing in action the greatest sportsperson in the world plying his trade and mesmerising one and all who were fortunate enough to be alive and witness to his feats.

There were of course the huge rants that I had to bear initially. My travel plans, my playtime, jamming, my entire schedule, regardless of exams, hell or high water had to be built around the race. Dad was hardly a fan and the only words I heard on those days would refer to how I was wasting my life pursuing ‘these vicarious thrills that would never help me in life’. Didn’t last too long though. Today, it would be hard to tell who between him and me, the bigger fan is.

Come B-school admission time and every single interview I gave revolved around F1. Every question, including which the last book I read was, was met with a response that drew the interviewer into the world of F1 and Michael Schumacher. Hardly hurt that even the most clueless interviewer had at least heard the name of the man who is undoubtedly the greatest driver ever seen in any form of racing and who may well be the greatest sportsperson at least of our times, if not of all time. Talk about a vicarious thrill that never helped…given that I cleared all the interviews…barring the lone one where the interviewers (bless them) consciously stayed away from the topic despite my best efforts… Ironic :-).

Tiger Woods recently labelled him the greatest sportsperson in the world and the reasons are hardly difficult to see. For four long years after 1995, Michael was not Champion. Yet he always carried the label of the best driver in the world. In 1997 and 1998, despite the horrendously slow machinery he had to work with, Michael made the fight for the crown a close one and both seasons went down to the last race of the Championship.

The genesis of the label though has to be the defining 1994 World Championship, when in a Ford V-8 powered Benetton, Michael beat off Damon Hill in the Renault V-10 powered Williams. That too without having raced in 3 of the races that season. The man was in town and there was no disputing who the demigod of the sport was.

The canter in 1995, followed by the shock move to one of the worst teams on the grid at that time, were the moves that would define the man later. Unlike Senna, Prost, Mansell and the rest before him, Schumacher had chosen the difficult path. He had chosen to reject offers from the best teams on the grid and rack up the wins and the records with the best machinery on view, choosing instead the mission of restoring the glory years to the sport’s most glamourous and storied, legendary team.

While Prost had attempted walking the same path (towards the end of his career), he gave up in a year. Michael was made of sterner stuff. Winning with a car that in Eddie Irvine’s famous words, “handled like a bullock-cart” is no mean feat. Winning when your team-mate, in identical machinery is not even in the top 10, is the stuff of legend. To do so repeatedly is folklore. To do so for over a decade is Divine.

Inevitably there are comparisons with Senna. Tosh! Look at the win/race ratio. Look at the pole/win ratio and you realise how silly the comparison is. Schumacher has rarely had the fastest car on the grid. Senna almost always did. Yet, Schumacher has comfortably more than twice the number of race wins Senna had. All said and done, Senna is who Senna is more because of the romance that is always associated with ones who die in the manner that Senna died in. Had Senna not died, he would probably have been forced to quit by the dominant German anyway.

As Michael retires from the sport, so shall I from viewing it. People speak of how I should mark my respect for the man by continuing to view the sport that he gave so much to make. Yet for me, F1 is Michael. Without him, there is no joy in the sport any more. I know of several who feel the same. That is perhaps the most worrying thing for Bernie Ecclestone. Never has the sport known such a phenomenon and the dip in the viewership when Michael was not competing in 1999 with the fracture is sure to be on Bernie’s mind…possibly that is what has fuelled his hopeful statement that he believes that the Red Baron may race with Renault in the coming season.

A dip in viewership is a foregone conclusion. How major of course, remains to be seen. Perhaps F1 will now be more about the sport than anything else, but that can only hurt. None of the current crop of drivers has anywhere close to the charisma that Michael does. None has his aura and none can even think in their dreams of comparing any aspect of their ‘talent’ with the Maestro…

As Michael leaves, perhaps the biggest wrench I feel is due to not having seen him race live. I had planned a trip to the Bahrain and Malaysian races next summer. That plan now lies in tatters. I hope though that Michael leaves as 8-time Champion. It would be justice. It would be the only deserving farewell to the greatest sportsperson to have walked the planet.

Thank you Michael for lighting up all those years and making the weekend so truly worthwhile. Thanks for all the brilliance and the exhilaration. Thanks for giving us the opportunity of seeing history being made and seeing the marker being laid down. Now make that 8 Championships and give us the high that you and we deserve to see you go out with.

Forza Michael. Forever Champion!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Intent Is Everything

Office seems fast to be replacing the L classrooms as the place where I doodle and ramble on...much to the dismay of those that are later forced to read of course, but then again, it's a matter of choice to read...and not that much a choice to write...somehow, my hands get restless...and then they can't be held down...

It was not without mild trepidation that he considered what he was doing. He was not entirely renowned for being the fastest driver around. Indeed, it would be fair to say that he was perhaps the most cautious that one was likely to find; a man loath to pick up speed unless convinced completely about the lack of any setback, foreseeable or otherwise.

Yet, today had been an entirely different experience for him. Looking back on it, perhaps it had been inevitable, considering the way the circumstances had played out their role. The drive had begun in perfect weather, weather the kind of which he had not really seen before...not in as long as he could remember at least. It seemed inviting; inviting to the extent that he had been conscious almost from the very start, of an irresistible urge to throw caution to the winds and surrender himself to the will of what seemed like a higher power that was willing him on. It had still taken him a bit of time, but he was now rolling merrily along, at a speed that he had not known before, but that seemed not to trouble him in the least on this day.

The estate-owner had heard of him. Not particularly known for moving at any kind of speeds, was the reputation that had floated in. True, the source of the information had been the subject himself, but there seemed little reason to doubt the veracity of these words. At this moment though, it would seem that either the reputation had been left behind, or else the driver was possessed…not that there were too many reasons to complain about that of course.

He had been quite slow when they started the journey and the trip home had begun to seem as if it would take a frustrating while longer than earlier thought. Then, all of a sudden, the Devil seemed to have come over him and he seemed to have floored the pedal. He was taking the curves with an effortless ease now and it was pleasantly astonishing to see how he seemed to be relishing this new experience. A flick of the wrist and a step further they hurtled on. Speed, it would appear was definitely a high he was not disliking…

As they approached the gates of the estate, he became acutely aware of the fact that the journey should really be drawing to an end. There were issues that cropped up, he knew, and decided that it was perhaps best to bring them up now…albeit in a roundabout manner. He slowed abruptly and turned to his co-passenger who seemed to be regarding him with an amused smile. “Err…I think I’m running out of gas”. “That’s alright. I didn’t intend to let you in anyway…” "Oh...ah...well, fine then..." He was conscious of the embarrassment he had caused himself, but was also relieved in a certain way.

On his way, he decided to drive around the outer walls. It was lovely…the sheer beauty rendered him speechless. The contours of the surface, the richness of the surrounds and of course, the exhilarating feeling of bliss and peace were not something that he had experienced before. It was as if time stood quite still and for once, he didn’t want it to move on. Drinking in the experience was like staring into the eyes of Infinity.

Jerking abruptly back to consciousness, he became aware suddenly of his phone ringing and drew to the side to take the call…

“Like what you see?”
“Yes, but it must be said that it reminds one quite a bit about the iceberg.”
“Surely there is less unseen than with the iceberg.”
“Very true, but looking at it from another perspective, perhaps what is hidden is – as with the iceberg – more important than what is so visible to the eye.”
“Well, then it may just be the eyes that need a slight refocusing, or of course, it could well be that the viewer sees but little right now and a slight change of perspective, or of course a shift in the fourth dimension shall bring more wisdom to the beholder!”
“One does see the point you make and must admit that given what has passed and the conviction and belief that one possesses - apart of course form one’s prided appreciation and devotion of all that is so exhilaratingly beautiful - that there is no doubt in one’s mind that what needs to be done, shall indeed come to pass.”
“And why would there be so much faith in such a conclusion?”
“Well, as I would say, ‘Intent is Everything…’ ”