Nemesis Awaits (1994 - 5) .
"All neurotic people have an inferiority complex....we do not need to ask: we need only
observe their behaviour, which reveals the tricks they use to reassure themselves
of their importance. If we see someone who is arrogant, for example, we can guess
that he feels, 'Other people are likely to overlook me. I must show them that I am
- Alfred Adler, What Life Could Mean To You, 1931.
"I am aware of my deficiencies. I am not perfect, nobody is. I am trying all the time
to improve as a person. I am working on this, so the public can understand me better.
But I can only be Michael Schumacher and be honest about that."
- Michael Schumacher responding to criticism that he is arrogant, 1996.
"I am going to get past the son of a bitch one day."
- Damon Hill, quoted in The Times, July 11 1995.
The pivotal point in Michael's Formula One career was the death of Ayrton Senna early in the 1994 season. This affected Michael greatly - Senna had after all been the model he had striven since his childhood to emulate, and even their repeated confrontations had not changed that. Ironically, their relationship had been starting to improve when the Brazilian was killed. Senna's death gave Michael a greater chance to display his outstanding talent as he emerged as his successor on the track, but unfortunately, he proved to have his predecessor's negative traits too. It is possible that Michael was subconsciously trying to "become" Senna to compensate for his death since he was right behind him at his fatal crash at the San Marino Grand Prix and initially blamed himself for it. This is a common reaction to such a loss, as Freud notes in his New Introductory Lectures: "If one has lost an object or has been obliged to give it up, one often compensates oneself by identifying oneself with it and by setting it up once more in one's ego, so that here object-choice regresses, as it were, to identification" (1).
Michael never really recovered from his feelings of guilt over what had happened to Senna even though there was no question of anyone else blaming him - Senna's boss Frank Williams and his chief designers were the ones accused of manslaughter (2). Michael briefly considered giving up racing altogether but was soon back on the track and fighting for the crown that Senna could no longer hold. The less savoury aspects of his personality began to emerge; nowhere is this clearer than in his battles with his new enemy Damon Hill (pictured left), Senna's British teammate who found himself thrust into the limelight on the Brazilian's death.
The 1994 season was a very controversial one in which neither of the two contenders that emerged as vying for the championship would give each other any quarter. Michael showed his ruthless and arrogant nature by constantly attacking Hill verbally, and at one point dismissed him as a "second rate driver thrown into a number one position" (3), an extremely cruel and tactless remark considering how hard Damon had struggled to keep the team together after San Marino. Unlike in his confrontations with Senna, Michael was usually on the offensive here. This berating of opponents, of course, has its roots in insecurity, as Michael clearly felt that he had to attack Damon to prove himself superior and protect against his own feelings of inferiority emerging (4). He is conscious of his background and does not want to be regarded as a simple country bumpkin - "the boy from nowhere" as one German journalist once put it (5) - especially not when compared to someone with as good a pedigree as Hill, the son of one of Britain's greatest ever drivers.
Michael proved to be no less ruthless on the track. He was disqualified from the Silverstone Grand Prix for ignoring a black flag that was shown after he overtook Damon on the parade lap (he claimed, rather implausibly, that he had not seen it, though it is clearly visible in pictures of the race (see for example, right)). He was also disqualified from the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa after his car's skid block was found to have worn down below normal tolerance levels. Ignoring the Silverstone flag eventually brought him a two-race ban which was applied to the Italian and Portuguese Grand Prixes, both of which were won by Hill, leaving him just one point behind Michael with three races to go.
Some thought that Michael's Silverstone punishment was unfairly harsh: if it was, he has certainly been compensated for it since. The season ended with a bang - literally - on lap 36 of the final race in Adelaide, Australia, when Michael, leading but under intense pressure from Damon, spun off the kerb, into a wall and then back into Damon's path as the Englishman attempted to overtake. The resulting collision (pictured left) put them both out of the race. This allowed Michael to retain the championship lead and thus take the title. The following season was somewhat less controversial, although Michael still had regular tussles with Hill involving both slanging matches and on-track confrontations. Michael was particularly incensed at the 1995 Italian Grand Prix, thumping Hill's car and hurling abuse at him after a collision put then both out of the race (sound familiar?), although this time there was little doubt that the blame for the crash lay with Hill. Michael nevertheless won his second championship title by a large margin, finishing up with 102 points to Hill's sixty-nine.
The debate about whether Michael had deliberately punted Damon off the track in 1994 re-emerged three years later when he attempted to execute a similar blocking manoeuvre on the Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the 1997 season at Jerez, Spain. However, this time the move did not work as Villeneuve managed to continue to finish third and take the championship whilst Michael was knocked into the gravel trap. Incredibly, the stewards initially dismissed this as "a racing incident", whilst the unrepentant Michael tried to blame Villeneuve, saying: "Jacques braked so late that he would have gone off if I hadn't turned into him" (6). After widespread protest from both the public and the media (7), the sports governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), conceded that Michael had made the move deliberately. However, his "punishment" was seen as a joke by most F1 personnel. He was disqualified from his second place in the championship table, which mattered little now that the season was over - at the very least, he should have been banned from the first race of the 1998 season. However, normal rules do not seem to apply to the self-styled "king of F1". Michael has increasingly become seen by the FIA as "too valuable" to punish as he is the only driver capable of challenging for the title in an inferior car (and, of course, all this controversy increases the viewing figures, which is the most important thing in the postmodern era). The chivalrous Damon repeatedly refused to openly blame Michael for the incident in Adelaide that had robbed him of the 1994 championship, and only revealed his true feelings in his 1998 book F1 Through the Eyes of Damon Hill, published after the Jerez debacle: "At the time I couldn't believe that he would do such a thing, but with hindsight, I think I was being a little naïve....I simply had not understood how far some drivers - and one driver in particular - would go in order to win" (8).
Hill's open and gentlemanly attitude towards all that Formula One could throw at him quickly made him a national hero in Britain, not least because of his confrontations with Michael. Adam Parsons of Autosport summed it up best on the eve of Damon's retirement in 1999:
"To feud with an opponent so openly and rancorously is always likely to endear a sportsman
to the British public, but when the opponent is German, seemingly arrogant, competitive
to the point of belligerence and, although we whispered it softly at the time, the butt
of allegations of cheating, then all the better"
Whilst acknowledging Michael's incredible talent, the British media have consistently viewed him as an emotional cripple whose arrogance makes him blind to his own faults. Although this is rather a clichéd portrayal ("evil German genius"), perhaps showing a prejudice against Germans, it does appear be quite accurate! Unsurprisingly, Michael does not give many interviews to the British media, other than to try to save face after some controversial incident.
What would a sports psychologist make of Michael Schumacher? Most of them would probably regard him as a classic Machiavellian personality, defined by Gordon W. Russell as one who engages in "a range of unethical, immoral and sometimes illegal activities without suffering the pangs of conscience or remorse that most of us would experience in such circumstances" (10). This description fits the impassive Schumacher's trackside behaviour perfectly. Sports psychologists (and athletes) often emphasise that one needs a great deal of self-confidence to be a successful sportsman - but there is a fine line between self-confidence and self-obsession. Michael seems to be on the wrong side of this line. Like Freud, he cannot sustain relationships with his peers, sacrificing the chance of friendship for a better prospect of success on the racetrack. Michael has often stated that he believes that there can be no real relationships in F1, something that is strenuously denied by most of the other drivers such as the Monaco trio of David Coulthard, Mika Salo and Jacques Villeneuve. He has also admitted that he is "too critical" to have many friends (11). As previously noted (see above), this attitude displays the lack of social interest that Adler saw as fundamental in the formation of a neurosis: "The relentless struggle for superiority....ignoring social interest, always aims for the glitter of personal conquest" (12).
At the same time, however, Michael appears capable of sustaining a successful family life. He married Corinna in August 1995 and later had two children with her (Gina Maria (pictured right with Corinna and Michael) in February 1997 and Mick in March 1999). In addition, he does not appear to engage in controversial behaviour away from the racetrack - most of those who have met him in private life have been impressed by his civility and composure. One such person was Jan Hartshorn, an employee of the Northampton hotel that was frequented by the Benetton team in 1994. She later told The Times that: "He was possibly the most liked guest we ever served...the hotel waitresses and chefs could not understand how this shy man, apparently earning so much, could treat them with more courtesy and politeness than they were accustomed to" (13). Clearly, then, Michael channels his aggression away from his home life and into racing instead; his private image is far removed from his public one. It may be well to heed this warning note though - Robert Smith concluded that the Machiavellian was almost identical to the psychopath (14).
1) See New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis (1915-17), Standard Edition XXII, p.63.
2) The Williams team were finally acquitted of any involvement in Senna's death in November 1999.
3) See Schumacher, Michael, quoted in Autosport, October 20 1994.
4) Jean Todt, the sporting director of the Ferrari F1 team and a man who has worked closely with Michael since 1996, revealed his driver's hidden insecurities in a recent interview: "He is much more fragile than he looks. When you look at him he doesn't seem to need to be looked after, but he does. He needs support and he needs to feel that people love him.....inside his head in many ways he's still a child". See Allen, James (1999) Michael Schumacher: The Quest for Redemption, Partridge, London, p.165.
5) See Collings, Timothy (1995) Schumacher: The Life of the New Formula One Champion (revised edition), Bloomsbury, London, p.50.
6) See Schumacher, Michael, quoted in F1 News, November 5 1997.
7) F1 News' impassioned response would have reflected the opinions of many: "Michael Schumacher deposited a truckload of egg on his own face on lap 48 when he tried to take Villeneuve out of the race as Jacques challenged for the lead. It was exactly the kind of move one would have expected from the man who took out Damon Hill to win the 1994 world title in Adelaide. If there were doubts about that incident, there were none on this occasion. It was a cynical attempt to save the World Championship, but this time it was executed with an amateurism which must have made Enzo Ferrari rotate in his grave" (See Saward, Joe "European GP Review" in F1 News, November 5 1997).
8) See Hill, Damon, quoted in Autosport, December 10 1998.
9) See Parsons, Adam "To Hill and back" in Autosport, October 28 1999.
10) See Russell, Gordon W. (1993) The Social Psychology of Sport, Springer-Verlag, New York, pp.173-4. This was certainly the opinion of one sector of the German press, who nicknamed Michael "Schumel", best translated as "a crafty devil".
11) See Schumacher, Michael, quoted in The Sunday Times Magazine, July 5 1998.
12) See Adler, Alfred (ed. Colin Brett) ( 1998) Social Interest, Oneworld, Oxford, p.30.
13) See Hartshorn, Jan, quoted in The Times, November 10 1997.
14) See Russell, Gordon W. (1993) p.174.
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ã Robin Tamblyn, 2000.
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