|The Schumacher Effect|
|by Andy Zaidman, Belgium|
In the last year or so, every race incident that concerned Schumacher or one of his close rivals has turned in Schumacher's favor. Last year, Villeneuve received a race ban for ignoring a yellow flag during qualifying while he was driving on a straight. And Schumacher? In Canada he drives out of the pits at full speed under a yellow flag, hits Frentzen, who crashes out of the race and what does Schumacher get? He gets a stop-and-go penalty... Two weeks ago, while the circus was in France, Hakkinen made a great start while Schumacher made a bad one. They stopped the race in order to tow Verstappen's Stewart away. But, in my humble opinion, the Stewart was not an immediate threat. It wasn't on the racing line and the other cars had safely gone through. In fact, when the other cars came around, the Stewart was already being pulled of the track. Once again, the race-officials were too careful and this was in the benefit of Schumacher.
Then there was the Grand Prix in Silverstone and once again Schumacher had lady luck on his side. This time, he his fortune found that the race wasn't canceled once they were in the 45th lap (a race can be terminated at 75% of the total distance due to circumstances and the drivers will still be awarded the normal points). The conditions were that awful that they should have terminated the race, but instead they brought out the safety car and Schumacher closed the 41 second gap to Mika Hakkinen. During the safety-car-procedure, Schumacher passed one of the Benettons to receive, once again, a 10 second penalty. He did this in the 50th lap, but only 7 laps later, they called him into the pits, granting him the opportunity to come into the pits on the final lap. So, he drove into the pits, crossed the line and served his penalty. Surely the race officials didn't mean to add 10 seconds up to his racing time, they wanted Schumacher to come into the pits, wait 10 seconds and continue.
When will we see the end of the protection of Schumacher? He is being treated very leniently by the FIA in my opinion. Why should Villeneuve receive a ban? Why did the FIA strip Schumacher of his points of 1997, when he clearly deserved a race ban? He got an alternative punishment: he made a commercial to promote car safety. Is that a punishment? Can Schumacher push Frentzen out of the way in Canada or push Diniz into the wall in Monte Carlo? The FIA should consider that if they allow Schumacher to commit errors in almost every race and only punish him very mildly every time, the next time Schumacher is on the verge of committing another error he may risk his safety and also that of one of his fellow drivers.
If Schumacher truly is one of the greats of all time, it is certainly time he begins acting like one. Or, the FIA should at least make attempts to force him to. Even though Senna, Prost, and other recent champions were no angels, I doubt they could have gone so far without more disciplinary action. While Schumacher is supposed to be an accent to the sport, the situations that are surrounding him very suspect and sad for the current state of Formula One.