Silver Mika vs Red Michael
by Julie GatesArticle is written by and copyright © 1999-2001 Julie Gates and The F1 Rumors Site
The current World Champion or the former double World Champion? Just who exactly should have the crown for today's best driver in Formula One? From the first sentence, a majority of readers are shouting "Schumacher" at the computer screens! Is the issue really as clear cut as that, though? If you look at the statistics, then Schumacher is clearly in a league of his own, but statistics are only one chapter of the book…
Pressure - who handles it better? Who is strongest psychologically? There's a difficult question! Turn the clock back to Adelaide 1995. At this Grand Prix, we saw Mika Hakkinen close to the grave, and apparently unlikely to set foot in a Formula One car again. Today he is World Champion and stronger than ever, full of confidence and growing as a driver with every race that goes by. He has rebounded from a tough psychological position, managing all the pressures of that situation. Many would say it demonstrates that he has the capacity to deal with anything... including a certain German.
Throughout 1998, Hakkinen handled the pressure like a true professional. Even though he arrived at Melbourne in 1998 with a single Grand Prix win (and that donated by Jacques Villeneuve), he put in some tremendous drives. Yes, he happened to be sitting in a McLaren, and there is little doubt that this helped his campaign, but the MP4-13 didn't drive itself around those sixteen Grand Prix circuits!
Last season saw Hakkinen triumph in eight races, and finishing in the points five other times. Many would argue he handled the pressures better than Michael Schumacher. Mika did make a mistake or two, particularly notable was his off-track excursion at Silverstone in the wet, but he controlled it, to rejoin the track and finish second.
Michael Schumacher won six races during 1998, mostly due to McLaren's misfortune or the tactical genius of Ross Brawn. This is not taking anything away from Michael; he is still the one who drove the car to those victories, but without McLaren's difficulties, or tactical assistance, his ability alone might not have sufficed. As an example, in France team tactics saw Ferrari use Eddie Irvine to hold up the McLaren duo whilst Schumacher sped into the distance, and ensuring their win. At Silverstone, a safety car period was required to close the gaps, enabling Michael Schumacher to capitalise on Mika Hakkinen's mistake to take the chequered flag in the pitlane. In Monza, Coulthard's engine failure combined with Hakkinen's braking problem allowed Schumacher and Irvine to complete the perfect 1-2 driver line up for the tifosi.
Last year, Schumacher handled the pressure as he usually does: work hard and always look to the future. However, he made a mistake in Austria that probably cost him a great victory (and the Championship). Furthermore, in Suzuka, where he had a last chance at winning the Championship, it was all over before the lights had even gone out, as Schumacher stalled the car…
In terms of outright speed, there is little to choose between the two. Schumacher, a past karting hero, has always shown raw speed that few are blessed with. As an aside, you can tell his younger brother Ralf also inherited the racing genes, as he is quicker than Michael in karts. Mika Hakkinen was also a karting champion, and also has immense natural ability; last year he demonstrated the he too can wring every last tenth out of his car, in the same way Schumacher stuns us all with some of his overwhelming performances.
A race that springs to mind is Hungary 1998. Here, Schumacher drove every lap as a qualifying lap, and it was possibly the finest victory of his career. Thanks to Ross Brawn's cunning tactics and Michael's pure speed, they won a memorable Grand Prix for F1 fans all over the world. Schumacher manages to find the limit, then drive right on it, pushing the edge of his skill and the car's effectiveness constantly.
Regarding talent, we probably have to say that Schumacher has a slight edge over Hakkinen. Unbelievably fit, he drives right on the limit every single race. He thinks with his head, whilst lightning-quick reactions co-ordinating hands, feet and head ensures that when he does overstep the mark, the situation is immediately rectified. A driver who uses his brain, he is the consummate professional all-rounder. He trains, tests, develops the car, utilises his intelligence and pushes 110% non-stop.
Now we come to the controversial bits - Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997. At Adelaide in 1994, Michael Schumacher became World Champion in controversial circumstances. Did he, or did he not, purposely knock Damon Hill out of the race to claim then championship? Maybe once is an accident, but what about twice? At Jerez in 1997, on course to take Ferrari's first title since 1979, Villeneuve closes him down, and goes for a passing opportunity. Michael panics, and relives 1994 and the Australian Grand Prix. The difference this time was his little 'manoeuvre' failed, and Villeneuve became the 1997 World Champion. Yes, we want serious wheel-to-wheel racing (attention all Max Mosley's), but Schumacher sometimes oversteps the boundary of what most would call suitable racing tactics. Why, we ask, does a driver of his calibre feel the need to do such things? Is he scared of losing? Is he scared the general public will think any less of him? Or does he just want to please himself and genuinely be the best in the world?
Clearly, there is no doubting Mika's talent. Simply sitting in the best car and letting it do all of the work (if he had, then Coulthard would have won) does not make World Champions. Hakkinen has superb car control and a tendency to push that little bit harder when everyone believes he has no reserve left in him. However, most would acknowledge that he doesn't drive at that pace as consistently as his German rival over a whole race distance, which could cost him valuable seconds at the wrong times.
This year - who is set for success? The genius team from Woking or the Italian marque seeking their first drivers' title for twenty years? Tough one, this! Putting it another way, one has a slightly better car, whilst the other has a slightly better driver. Apart from the reliability issues, basically they are so even over the course of a whole season that there's little to chose between them.
Silver versus Red - who would you bet your money on? I don't know about you, but I consider it too close to call!
Julie Gates is happiest watching F1 and writing. Also interested in singing, cars, cinema, reading and going to concerts, she has little spare time to relax, but this is the way she likes it - rather being busy than idle as she can't stand still for five minutes! Totally committed to her career as a Formula One journalist, she is determined to succeed.