Schuey’s Moments of Madness

You cannot talk about Michael Schumacher, without bringing up his various incidents on track. I’ve picked out these particular examples, one of which came before his Formula One debut.

1990 Macau Grand Prix

This event, held for Formula Three cars saw a big battle between him and Mika Hakkinen. On the last lap of the event, having just started the final lap Mika was tucked up under the rear wing of Michael’s Reynard, and didn’t need to overtake the German to win the event. As the Finn went to pass his rival, Michael made the one move which would become a signature of his career and the two cars come together. Mika’s car, run by West Surrey Racing, was damaged on the left-hand side, with broken suspension and front wing. Mika was out, and Michael went on to win the event.

 

1994 Australian Grand Prix

For the next incident, we jump forwards to 1994. The battle that year between Damon and Michael was epic. As the two drivers came to the final race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, held at the iconic Adelaide street circuit, Damon was just a single point behind Michael, after taking victory in a very wet Japanese Grand Prix. Now on lap 35, having taken the lead at the start of the race from Nigel Mansell who was on pole position, the Benetton driver had a moment coming into a left-hand corner, and he caught the rear of the car, but went wide, hitting the wall on the exit, and almost certainly damaging his car. Damon was around two seconds away, and witnessed Michael re-joining the track. The Brit didn’t know that Michael had hit the wall. Coming into the following right-hand corner, Damon moved to the inside of Michael, but the gap closed down, and the two cars came together. Now, Michael certainly knew that his car was damaged, so, did he move over on his championship rival? My opinion is that he did.

 

1997 European Grand Prix

Moving on to the next incident at Jerez at the end of 1997, I believe that this was pretty obvious to all. The battle between Jacques Villeneuve and the German for that season’s title, as Ferrari looked at the time to win their first championship since 1979 was big indeed, and Michael once more was leading the championship by one point as they came to the finale. The top three set the same time in qualifying with the Canadian on pole, followed by Michael, and then Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Michael took the lead, and Jacques dropped behind his teammate to third place. During lap seven, Jacques passed Heinz, and set about closing the gap to Michael. On lap 22 they both pitted, but Michael’s pace on his new set of tyres was not very good, and Jacques closed the gap down. During lap 47 the Canadian was right with Michael, and took a last gasp move up the inside, taking the Ferrari driver by surprise. Michael attempted to stop the Williams driver, by hitting the side of Jacques car, but this resulted in the steering getting broken on the Ferrari, and the car ended up in the gravel trap on the outside of the right-hand corner. It was a blatant move, and the FIA removed Michael from the drivers’ championship standings.

 

2000 Belgian Grand Prix

Moving onto the next big moment, which happened at the Belgian Grand Prix during the 2000 season. This was different from the previous events as it was not a championship decider, but Mika Hakkinen and Michael were still fighting for the championship. It was a wet to dry race and Mika led the race early on, with his rival down in fourth place. By lap 13 Michael was close enough to take advantage of Mika’s spin to take the lead. The Ferrari ace then had a 5.6 second lead at the end of the lap. As we came to the last few laps, Mika had been catching the leader, who had been suffering with tyres that had been overheating for a number of laps. He’d been driving off line on the Kemmel Straight to cool his tyres down, whilst Mika brought the gap down to just 1.6 seconds with just ten laps left. Coming up the Kemmel Straight with just five laps left, Mika was right on the tail of the Ferrari, and took a look up the inside but Michael edged the Ferrari over on the McLaren and Mika had to back out as the gap closed down. It was over the mark though, as Mika was very close to ending up on the grass. The McLaren driver got his own back however on the following lap with a dramatic move, and one that is well known – yes, that move with Ricardo Zonta in his BAR-Honda in the middle.

Ferrari Media

2006 Monaco Grand Prix

We head to Monte Carlo for the next incident, the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix. Towards the end of qualifying, as Michael had already set the fastest time, and was on pole position, he came to La Rascasse, and didn’t make the corner. Meanwhile, his big rival for the championship, Fernando Alonso was on a quick lap, going purple in the first sector. Back at La Rascasse, the German ace was parked up, meaning that there were yellows being waved. Alonso had to back out of his quick lap, and thus it was suspected that Michael had done this deliberately. The FIA believed it, and after several hours the stewards stripped the Ferrari driver of pole, thus elevating the Renault driver who was second fastest.

Ferrari Media

2010 Hungarian Grand Prix

The final moment came in 2010 during the year when Michael made his return to Formula One with Mercedes-Benz, and it was against his former Ferrari teammate, Rubens Barrichello during that years Hungarian Grand Prix. Coming to the end of the race, the Brasilian, who had qualified his Williams-Cosworth in twelfth position, was right on the German’s tail. Coming onto the start finish straight, Michael’s car slid at the rear mid corner point. Rubens was now within a one car length of the Mercedes-Benz, and was benefiting from the tow halfway down the straight. Michael had his car in the middle of the track, giving space to Rubens to go either side. The gap on the inside was starting to close, but there was good space for the Williams driver to make a move up the inside. By the time that Rubens was halfway alongside Michael, the gap had reduced and the pitwall was getting closer and closer as Michael continued to reduce the space that Rubens had. In the end the gap came right down to the point that Rubens left-hand tyres were on the inner white line near the pitwall, with the result that the right-hand side was very close to hitting the pitwall! Thankfully, the pitlane was just beyond, and crucially no-one was exiting the pitlane at that moment! There was immediate criticism after the race of Michael’s actions. One thing was true – he’d lost nothing of his dislike of being overtaken, and was still willing to push the envelope of what was right. Michael was given a ten-place grid penalty for the following race in Belgium, and although he initially defended his actions, he later apologised for his actions.

Mercedes AMG

Summary

Michael Schumacher was an incredible talent – there is no doubt about this. But he really used to push the envelope as to what was acceptable. He became the most successful driver ever, winning 91 races and seven world championships, but there will always be these incidents casting a shadow over his career.

Safety in Motorsports Week: The HANS Device

The Head and Neck System (more commonly referred to as the HANS device) is often overlooked in the world of modern Formula One. Its historical significance, though, should not be underestimated, not least because at the time of its introduction it was one of very, very few occasions in F1’s history up to that point where the FIA had reacted to a non-fatal accident.

Photo credit, Dan Istitene / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The accident in question occurred at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, hosted at the popular Adelaide circuit. At one of the fastest points on the track, a rapid tyre deflation sent Mika Hakkinen – then in his third season in F1 – hurtling into the barriers. The impact was so extreme that his neck hyperextended, his skull was fractured, he swallowed his tongue, and he suffered major internal bleeding. He spent over two months in hospital – a significant amount of that in intensive care – but he eventually made a full recovery and returned to F1 for the 1996 season.

F1 drivers in that era were still sitting very high up in the cars with their shoulders often clear of the chassis, making them extremely vulnerable to head and neck injuries. It was this driving position, mixed with the fact that Hakkinen had nothing supporting his neck, which made his injuries so severe.

The HANS device was already in existence at this point, having initially being designed in the 1980s by Dr Robert Hubbard, but it was too bulky to fit into the narrow cockpit of a single-seater racing car, and he was unable to find sufficient financial backing to complete the necessary redesigns. Hakkinen’s accident, though, made the FIA realise its potential in terms of safety, and they offered to help in and fund its development.

Photo credit, Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

The HANS device, because of Hakkinen’s accident, evolved into what it is today – a collar-type piece of carbon fibre that fits either side of the drivers’ shoulders, attached to mounting points either side of their helmets by two tethers and held in place by the seatbelts. In the event of a crash, these tethers stop the head from whipping backwards and forwards, keeping the neck in line with the spine and thus preventing it from hyperextending like Mika Hakkinen’s had. In addition, it helps to transfer the energy that would otherwise be absorbed by the head, into the stronger torso, seat, and the belts, reducing the strain put on the head.

Even today, head and neck injuries are still the leading cause of driver deaths regardless of category, and it begs the question just how many potential fatalities were prevented by the HANS device.

Hindsight, though, is a wonderful thing. When the HANS device was initially introduced, it was greeted with a very lukewarm reception. Many drivers claimed that it was cumbersome, uncomfortable, and might even cause more injuries than it prevented. NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt even went so far as to refer to it as a ‘noose’. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Earnhardt was killed by a basal skull fracture in 2001, the forth NASCAR driver in the space of fourteen months to die of such an injury, one which the HANS device would have helped prevent.

Photo credit, Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

The National Hot Rod Association was the first series to adopt the HANS device, following the death of Blaine Johnson in 1996. In 2002, at the Italian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa became the first man to wear the HANS device during a Formula One race. The next year, in 2003, it became mandatory for drivers in any and all FIA series to wear the HANS device, at the risk of being disqualified from the event should they fail to do so. Some have claimed that Massa’s accident at the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix was the first example of the HANS device potentially saving a driver’s life.

Amid all the talk of Virtual Safety Cars and halos of late, it is easy to overlook the HANS device and the impact it has had on safety in motorsport. Before its introduction, even crashes that did not on the face of it seem that dramatic could end in tragedy. Yes, head and neck injuries may still be the leading fatalities of drivers, but the number of times the HANS device has prevented such an incident from happening is innumerable and worth its weight in gold. It has become a staple of motorsport safety, and in no way should it be taken for granted.