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Schumacher’s race sums up F1’s problem
Schumacher’s race sums up F1’s problem
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Mar 2010   |  1:30 pm GMT  |  177 comments

After the enormous build up, Michael Schumacher’s comeback drive didn’t yield a pole or a podium, he finished sixth two places lower than on his last race in Brazil 2006. And this is probably more or less what he expected. The Mercedes didn’t look as fast as the Red Bull and Ferrari in pre season testing and it more or less matched the McLaren for pace all weekend, showing what a good result third was for Lewis Hamilton.

Analysing Schumacher’s performance is worthwhile for two reasons; it shows what kind of shape the great champion is in, on his return after three years off and it sheds some interesting light on the problems F1 faces with the new rules,

Having overshadowed his new team mate Rosberg in the run up to the event, Schumacher was forced to slot in behind him on track, which only happend very occasionally in the past. But he will have seen enough to know that he is going to be able to compete over a season. While he looked rather tense in the early part of the weekend, by the end of it he looked quite calm and that means he knows he can go up several gears from here.

Schumacher was around four tenths of a second slower than Rosberg in headline lap time throughout the practice sessions, but managed to get closer in qualifying, bringing the margin down to just three tenths of a second.

After qualifying he said, “”I certainly feel a little bit rusty, certainly on the one-lap issue I can do better. On long runs and consistent runs things are pretty good, I’m quite happy. I will just use the rest of the weekend in order to tweak out the little bits.

“It’s not a problem. It’s just that for one lap I saw that Nico was four-tenths up and that is a bit too much for my standards. I’ve got to raise my game a bit and I’m sure I’m able to.”

Schumacher hadn’t mastered the first lap on the new tyre, especially when the track got hotter in the decisive Q3 session. What happened then was that he overheated the tyre in the middle sector, which featured the twisty new section. And because of the way he had the Mercedes set up, the tyres did not cool down on the straight which followed, so he wasn’t quick through the final sector. Everyone was faced with the same problem and the big margins between cars on the grid are as a result of this. It’s something that Vettel and the Ferrari drivers got right.

“(The front tyres) are very small and narrow for my style of driving and so I cannot get the car into the corners the way I like to,” he said after the race on his website.

Schumacher’s race was very straight forward and is hard to analyse in any depth because he was always following other cars, maintaining a gap so as not to overheat his tyres or engine.

Starting seventh on the grid, he got a reasonable start, but not as good as Rosberg. Nico managed to squeeze past Hamilton who made a mistake in Turn Four and got himself on a bad line. Schumacher wasn’t able to follow and stayed behind Hamilton and Rosberg for the opening stint, three seconds off Hamilton’s tail.

He pitted on lap 15, the same time as Hamilton. When Rosberg pitted a lap later, he had lost the initiative to Hamilton, who made good use of the new tyre on his out lap and so Hamilton now led Rosberg with Schumacher behind. The gap was two seconds initially, but went out to four seconds and stayed that way to the finish.

“Overtaking was basically impossible unless somebody made a mistake,” Schumacher said “That is the action we are going to have with this kind of environment of race strategy.”

Schumacher’s race symbolised the problem with the new rules in that there were no other possible game changing moments for Schumacher to take advantage of. There were no more pit stops, Rosberg didn’t make any mistakes, they both dealt with the traffic pretty well and so there were no opportunities to change the game.

Refuelling stops break up that kind of pattern because they provide the possibility of a slow in or out lap, a mistake by the pit crew.

The crucial difference between now and the early 1990s, the last time we had no refuelling, is that the cars are so much more reliable now, thanks to the quality control processes imported from industry. The tyres are too also too good, as are the aerodynamics, so no-one uses up tyres significantly more than anyone else, making them vulnerable.

Of the retirements, four were new teams, who have yet to master reliability . Both Saubers went out with a hydraulic problem, which shows them in a poor light, given that all the other established teams got to the finish no problem.

In the opening race of 1993 in South Africa, a race I remember well as it was my only visit to that country to date, only seven cars were classified at the finish and to of them didn’t actually cross the line. Schumacher was in that race for Benetton and collided with Ayrton Senna on lap 39.

Of the 26 cars which started the race, 10 retired due to technical failure and seven either spun out or crashed. Even in the last race of the pre-refuelling era in Australia that year, six cars had technical failures and five had accidents. The top three finishers that day were the same as the top three in qualifying, showing that it has never been easy to pass in F1.

At least we had a significant pass for position between Alonso and Massa on Sunday.

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I’ve just read James Allen’s article on about passing problems, hoping to see someone say that it was probably just the track! Bahrain has never been an exciting track anyway so no wonder that the first race was a bore! I don’t think that it is possible to judge this new season on one race. Let’s wait for Melbourne- that should be much more eventful.


I haven’t seen the timing so I don’t know how fast Hami’s out-lap was, but I did notice that when Nico was ready to leave from his pitstop, he was held up due to incoming pitlane traffic, and that’s the reason why (in my humble opinion [yes, I typed it out]) Hamilton got past Nico in the pits.

Again, Hamilton did seem to get around nicely on his out-lap, but I’m positive if Nico hadn’t been help up those 2-3 seconds, he would have gotten out ahead of Hamilton.


…hadn’t been held* up…


When the whole world has been asking for more mechanical and less aero… what do the FIA do?

They enforce NARROW front tires, and give the green light to double diffusers…

This is why F1 no longer has any racing elements left – the drivers are irrelevant to the event…

MotoGP is a fine demonstration of why mechanical grip is king of racing, and aero should be kept to a minimum…

When was the last time, we saw one driver tuck in tight behind another, follow for a couple of corners, and then take the draft speed advantage to overtake the guy infront?


“The car has mechanical issues with the suspension that are hurting tyre management and losing the drivers lap time.

Rosberg can handle the resulting understeer, but Schumacher is further compromising the car’s set-up as he tries to tailor the car to the way he likes it, with immense front-end grip.

This team is going to take a bit of time to settle in. Trouble is, the championship might have a couple of runaway leaders by then.”

– Ted Kravitz


Yes it’s basically a weight distribution thing


I don’t understand how Lewis cained his “hard” tyres in practice after four laps, yet made one stop in the race???


thanks for the theory on the spread of the qualifying times James. I was wondering that myself as there was 1 second between pole and 4th.

I asked the BBC F1 Forum but they seemed to want to concentrate on the driver stories.


Hi all

Great site James.

The thing that has made me wince for the last 10 years in F1 is the constant manipulation of techical/sporting regulations to manufacture action in the sport.

Being a motorsport purist, hollywood type action (created by things like qualifying with race fuel, mandatory pit stops, reverse grids etc.) is all nonsense and any excitement caused by them is illegitimate.

Make F1 pure again (just leave the rules alone, as they are) and allow teams to build competitiveness and real overtaking/racing, not this ‘what rule can we create to spice things up’.

If Fernando Alonso has the car to win every race this year, then he should win every race this year, end of story. He, and no other car, should be thrown bullshit curve balls and hoops to jump through all in the name of ‘excitement.

My case in point, the WRC. Seen any overtaking in that sport’of late?


Can somebody explain the reasoning behind using a narrower front tyre this year?


Better natural car balance. Look it up on the official f1 site.


James, I believe your friend, Martin Brundle said something like ‘Oh look, Schumacher isn’t performing well’ which I find it extremely biased.

I mean he came back from 3 years break and was beating the so called ‘deserving’ world champion and Mark Weber in a slower car.

I think it’s insanely unprofessional and really bad for the sport.

Even my English friends were not impressed by that.


I wonder if losing spectators and therefore money is worth the “cost savings” rules (i.e., no refueling, less tires per weekend, etc) they have this yr?


Hi James,

Great analysis as usual.

Your mention of Schumcher’s accident with Senna in Sth Africa back in ’93 made me wonder whether the processional nature of th last race will force drivers to rethink their allowable levels of risk and be more willing to force a move on another driver even at the risk of potentially hurting their tyres?

In other words, if someone is in 4th on the grid and is likely to stay there the whole race, do you think that the driver will be more likely to make aggressive moves early in the race, even if it means potentially doing a little damage to their tyres in order to make up a couple of places?

It seems so hard to overtake at the moment that, with a little bit of defensive driving, perhaps a driver could nurse a slightly flatspotted set of tyres to the next stop and still get away with it because it is so hard to overtake (as Mark Webber would attest to having had potentially the fastest car on the day but couldn’t do anything with it).

What are your thoughts on the likelihood of seeing more banzai attempts to get past other drivers?


I have a feeling the new regulations saved Schumacher’s blushes. As qualifying and practive showed he isn’t up to his old level (yet) however during the race they weren’t driving to the limit of the car but to conserve the tyres which enabled him finish closer to Rosberg than would’ve been the case with a full-chat sprint refueling race.

I hope Schumacher can improve, I wasn’t a fan first time round (i’m now though), it’s sad to see the great champion to finish an anonymous sixth.


Yes you have- you’re both right! Apologies


If we are forced to have pit-stops let the drivers do it themselves….

Halfords can supply/sponsor the trolley jacks…..

The fittest fastest drivers will have the shortest stoppage times and if they lose a wheel they can only blame themselves….

Would make pit-stops exciting and definitely stir up the pack..

Then again perhaps a not so well thought out idea……., so the FIA are bound to run with it!!! Haha


Just in case anyone was confused by this my tongue was firmly welded to my cheek…


I think things could be a lot simpler. Racing and qualifying was a LOT better until the late 90s, when 3 things happened.

1) The tyres were changed from slicks to grooves. Big mistake.

2) The qualifying sessions were inexplicably changed from a relative one hour free-for-all that almost always guaranteed last minute shootouts, as well as the true fans’ spectacle of seeing the great drivers wind themselves up lap after lap til they delivered a banzai final one. Bigger mistake.

3) Aerodynamics became so complex and so overly ‘perfect’ that each individual car became its own unique weather system, operating perfectly efficiently independently, but throwing off such complicated vortices if churned air that they became literally repellent to approaching cars. In short, overtaking becomes impossible without a major performance differential. Biggest mistake.

F1 should be all about progress and technological genius, but people should accept that there is a finite level of aerodynamic efficiency – we cannot make cars like arrows – and that once attained, as I believe it has been, a technological plateau is reached in which miniscule developments are achieved but the racing still sucks.

And the fans, passionate and casual, don’t really care how hyper-efficient a particular car might be in the wind tunnel.

So we need to revert to the ‘classic’ style of qualifying, go back to slicks, ie mechanical grip, even if it means curtailing horsepower now and again should speeds become too dangerous, and we absolutely need to reduce aerodynamic efficiency, or else mandate some style regs that take us back to an earlier level of progress and set everyone off in a slightly different direction.

In short, let’s wind the clock back to a time when endless meddling with the rules wasn’t needed, when the cars were wilder and less like jet fighters, and when the public and drivers alike could thrill to the prospect of cars sliding about and outfoxing each other on track.


First I think everybody is over reacting because expectations were too high. Lot´s of champions on the grid are good for F1 revenues but they don’t make races more exciting. More often than not the best racing moments occur in the middle field and not in the front.

Anyhow I think it’s good that the best drivers are spread among the best teams and not in just one or two teams.

Basically there is always a big problem in F1, and I mean the grey areas of the rules.

Last year there was a big change in order to promote overtaking. Unfortunately some “average” teams bent the rules and came with the double diffusers. This was not serious at all. FIA, again, reacted in the wrong way, and came to rescue Brawn, and approved de DD.

Without double diffuser Brawn would have done nothing, Jenson and Rubens would have been in there regular places (middle field), and we could have a lot more overtaking. If they were approved for last year, they had to keep it for 2010 because they didn´t want to show that 2009 interpretation about that matter was a political one, just to rescue Brawn in 2009.

Now we have super double diffusers that are a terrible device and doesn´t help overtaking at all. It makes it impossible and causes a lot of problems.

Didn’t Mr Brawn thought about the consequences of having that silly DD approved? Is he interested in the overtaking matter ?

Of course not. And he is a member of the overtaking work group. Shame on you Mr Brawn.


Another great article, thanks James.

With the improvements in aero, mechanics, tyres and reliability thus making passing so very difficult. Maybe Bernie’s ‘passing places’ perhaps have some merit?

They could really spice up the show. Imagine Monaco with maybe three chances to pass on the run down after the tunnel? Could be neat.

… then we could pander to the playstation generation and have all kinds of devices to either slow the field or give a boost.

Pier Adolfo Rodelon

The race was an embarrassment. The suggestion that this is the pinnacle of motor racing is just silliness. There was no racing yesterday. All the suggestions for bringing back the racing seem to be resisted by the powers that be. Which must mean they are getting what they want out of this pathetic sham. I happened to watch an Indy Car race, and it was much more interesting and complicated that this F1 joke. I don’t like Indy Cars, but there was no doubt the race was a real “race.”

Please urge IMMEDIATE changes in the F1 program so that we don’t have to watch another of these drab performances.


I know the FIA is on a cost cutting mission but for the sake of the show let teams have a choice of tyres as they did in the eighties. Let them have two ‘super-softs’ for qualifying. This would make an interesting dilemma for the teams. Do they hold a set back for Q3 and risk a lower team keeping them out of Q3 or use both sets in Q1 and Q2 and hope for the best in Q3? Interesting, don’t you think? As for the race: Let them choose between a Soft, Medium and Hard compound tyre. They can use all three if they like (two stops) or try running the whole race on the Hard compound without stopping. It’s up to the tyre manufacturer to get the right balance between the compounds to make the different strategies feasible – depending on each teams car characteristics. I believe this variety of tyre choice and tactics would give us the ‘show’ we all crave.


The biggest down side of watching Schumacher go round in the middle of the pack was total deflation. If Schumacher, Hamilton, Webber, Button etc etc could not inject any excitement, what chance is there? The only real plaudits go to Alonso for the one real move at the start, but if he thinks he could have got pass Vettel without the failure, he’s in dreamland.


Hamilton passed Rubens for position! Thats the only real move i saw, not one at the start of the race. Hows that a move?


But Michael only was beaten by five drivers. He supear others 17 drivers!!!


I tried to do some technical research the last two days, and here’s my hypothesis…

Everything problematic in F1 today boils down into two major issues.

1) Lack of front-end aerodynamic grip when following a lead car.

2) Issue of hot turbulent air directly behind lead car affecting engine cooling performance.

Now with an eye to the future, here’s my two cents worth of science-fiction imagination, what a futuristic F1 might be, based on present scientific possibilities.

‘Electric engines’

Now i know, electric engines are being designed right now, for use in F1 for 2013? The heat production from the engines are huge, but not as much as the current internal combustion engines. (..hold thought..)

‘Jet Systems’

Jet engines, or jet exhausts, or jet intakes. F1 is largely designed based on aeronautical engineering. so its not something alien. the problem turbulent (and heated) airflow behind the lead car, and it isn’t possible to passively channel enough of this air-stream in order to create effective downforce. so the logical solution..

‘Active Thrust’

Based somewhat on the air-nozzles of the British Harrier jump-jet, if a technology was implemented whereby either a directed jet-flow was channeled through the front wings upwards (to create downward thrust), or else ..

‘Exhaust Vectoring’

Where the release air from the engine, or the electric motor was driven through a relayed turbine and blown directly upwards // or sideways at an angle instead of directly behind at the following car.

‘Plate Radiators’

This with reference to the coolant systems used by the Gemini spacecraft by NASA, whereby the entire surface of the spacecraft is made of heat radiating material, ideal for dissipating large amounts of heats. In F1, this will be something for the material engineers to come up with some new kind of carbon-fibre components that apart from its other characteristics, are also able to dissipate enough heat to cool the engines and gearbox, perhaps through the underside of the car to prevent super hot surfaces hampering track marshaling.

‘Vacumm Technologies’

To research within electric engines, if it allows for all the components of the engine to function in a vacumm-state thus eliminating friction, and heat.

I had many more ideas, but i know you’re so busy and it takes up a lot of space, sorry!! 😉 Although I know, everything radical always eventually ends up becoming F1 technology, and in a coffee shop somewhere some young engineer is busy drawing up all these ideas on this coffee napkin!



Who knows? I mean, half of them currently sound like someone’s spiked your drink, but ikf you imagine how a 2010 Red Bull would have seemed to the guys who raced Bugatti Type 35s in the 1920s, you can see how in 80 years time most of them could be common in family hatchbacks, never mind racing cars…


Hello James,

It’s a bit off, but despite the first race, do you see any chance that Nico can beat Michael throughout the season?


Hard to say at the moment. He drove well at the weekend. But Schumacher is Schumacher


Nice piece Ben

Mildly related: But as long as Jenson is Lewis’ team mate he won’t beat Lewis, the very odd result excepting.

“Something broke on the car, it didn’t feel right” – Jenson Button reasons why he was out qualified by his team mate in Bahrain 2010.

Can’t wait for the next 18

Can’t wait


F1 is a business and it is a very tough one. It has competitors, customers, etc. Competition is very tense and when CVC is going to see that their income and prospects are dropping rapidly, heads will roll and Bernie might be the one to lose his position.

It is so clear that business is almost out of control and if the next 2-3 races are going to be the same of even worse, some serious discussions are going to start and some critical interventions will take place.

I will not go to the Belgian GP as I planned this year and I will not watch anymore races until I hear that there is a sport where I can see a battle between best cars and drivers and rules are letting them fight every centimeter of the race track. I am not going to hope anymore – it was this year or never and I will need to be consistent with what I have said to myself.

F1 will lose my money this year and if other people will let Bernie know the same thing…and he will see that he is losing 50% of the planned income, he will be extremely motivated to bring back real F1 back.

Will not be fooled anymore….F1 needs to win my heart….again.

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