I missed you, Michael.
I know, everyone misses you, even those who share the fatigue of everyday life in your current limbo. Nor is it fair to personalize memories that, rightly, must belong to everyone. But on Sunday, as it aired the chronicle of an announced farce (the teams have all known, for hours, that the race would never really start: rest assured, they will never say it), I think everyone has thought and understood how much missing, today, a Michael Schumacher to Formula 1. While the excitement for an event destined to end in nothing, or rather in ridicule, mounted, the TV recalled the thirty years since your debut, on that track so close to your Kerpen and your heart as a driver. As a master of lateral thinking, the strangest details came to mind, the stories of Bertrand Gachot, then a Jordan driver, whose arrest for using stinging spray against an English taxi driver had opened the doors of the Grand Prix to you and to him those of the British galleys: to the disgusting sweet beans that they had made him eat in prison, to the jailers who passed in front of the cell mocked him by imitating the noise of a racing engine. Then the discussion moved on to 2004, the day of the seventh world championship (and that time I was there): and your long face came to mind above all, because yes, you had won the title but lost the race against a certain Kimi. I was thinking of your comeback from the eighth row in ’95, the victory of ’96, with the steering wheel wrong, and that “against all odds”Of the following year. To anger against David Coulthard in ’98, with Stefano Domenicali who tried in vain to hold you back: but also to that all in all benevolent slap that you gave to Takuma Sato in 2005, after he had definitively ruined your match.
I thought of the many stories of your artistic life – because at these levels driving becomes an art – and it seemed right that many of these stories were intertwined with those of a circuit where, in the meantime, motoring was giving the worst proof of itself. And it occurred to me that yes, perhaps, a personality like yours, in a circumstance like this, might have sailed the F1 bandwagon towards a more dignified landing. Not miracles, mind you, because you did those only with the steering wheel in your hand. However, between your debut with seventh place in qualifying, the first victory and the last world championship won, the scenario had not changed: always the hills of the Ardennes. Where your career and your charisma had taken off on an even steeper ramp than that of the Raidillon. Because from the mid-90s and for more than a decade, the reference point for the category was you. And not only in the collective imagination or in the commentary, but also in what, for a Grand Prix driver, is after all the day-by-day, the daily work.
I read Giorgio Terruzzi’s comment on the sad fate of the drivers association and I fully shared it. But I also thought that, after the tragedy of Imola and the drama of Wendlinger in Monte Carlo, the GPDA (which had actually been vegetating for more than thirty years) had found its reason for being also and above all thanks to you. I was reminded of a somewhat transversal memory: that of Alex Zanardi, then a Lotus driver, who a little admired and a little annoyed grumbled after a meeting: “Schumacher always speaks for everyone …“. Yes: leaders are often like that, and not everyone likes them. But they have the ability to be respected. And to be heard. Michael Schumacher, at Spa 2021, would not have worked miracles. But surely he would have spoken, and surely he would have done so from the top of a position that everyone, perhaps even not sharing it, should have taken into consideration. Because it would have been the man who best of all interpreted the ability to tame risk, but also to say to the outside world: look that we are on the track and not you. We, who would like to run always and in any case, but not go to the slaughterhouse. Clearly this would not have overturned the events, and certainly it is better this way: if the conditions for racing are not there, it is useless to load up with useless heroics. However, I don’t want Michael Masi, I think a “no” from the most prestigious of pilots would have convinced everyone: much more than a delayed red flag.
Today, however, what do we have? Lewis Hamilton’s comments – who, like it or not, given in hand is the most successful driver in history – which are read as a strategy or as a useless complaint. Those of Max Verstappen, ditto. Yet no one denies or should deny pilots the right to speak out on such matters. But since the weekend of Spa I have not had, not even for a moment, the perception of unity, of entrusting to a single voice, the most authoritative, the point of view of those who legitimately had the right to decide. Maybe because I’m a ruin raised in a forest of microphones, recorders and notebooks and not in a panorama of Instagram profiles (where, moreover, Hamilton has half, I believe, of Lady Gaga’s followers). I just know that Sunday, Michael, I, in fact, we missed you. Or as they say in your part: Wir haben dich vermisst.
FP | Alberto Antonini
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