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!


Neena said...

I was waiting impatiently for this one. :)

And I completely relate to the incidents you faced at home ;) Mom chooses to be sarcastic. Never understands “why we watch weird, horrible cars making incessant monotonous noise for 1 and a half hours”.

Dad probably liked F1. Never scolded us for watching any kind of sport on tv. We forced him to watch some of the races and he took interest. He compelled me to watch Football from the age of 5, so I returned him the favour. :)

Anonymous said...

check this video of schumi in google

Darth Midnightmare said...

@Neena: Oh yes, remember that all too well. Somehow never was able to get him hooked onto footer, but that's alrite. Him and his dumb cricket, me and my footer and F1 :-)

@Anon: I think this is a pretty old vid actually. Not seen the one at the link yet, but I remember there was a show on Star Sports once where they had the Modena v/s the Fiat and the F1 car and Schumi in the F1 car won around the last bend. Quite a nice vid. Check out the various youtube vids also if you like...including Schumi against the EuroJet and all that...

Mistress of Magic said...

amazing post. :) very well written. such a joy reading material written with so much passion. :)

Anonymous said...

No blog entry?
Is Bangalore keeping you sooo busy??
Or... ahem... something else? ;-)


Anonymous said...

Blogging ko alvida keh diya kya?

The Silent Admirer said...

I always liked your writing, honest and direct,reading you after a while..probably first time after L...keep writing dude...