Why Schumacher’s long awaited podium is nothing to scoff at

If you’re an F1 fan/cursory viewer/disinterested sports fan who merely glances at its coverage in the paper or on television, you might have heard of Michael Schumacher scoring a third place finish at Sunday’s European Grand Prix in Valencia.

Your reaction might very well have been one of ‘it’s about time, already!’. Schumacher did, after all, go without scoring a single podium finish, let alone a win since coming back to the sport in 2010 after spending the majority of three years out of the cockpit of an F1 car.

The first year of his comeback was spent trying to come to terms with a car that had been built before he even joined Mercedes, that too built around the driving style of Jenson Button. The Englishman had won the 2009 crown with the team when it was Brawn GP and even admitted as much publicly.

2011 started off miserably for Schumacher but following a storming drive in the Canadian GP where he was, before it stopped raining, running second and catching Sebastian Vettel for the lead he started to score solid points scoring finishes. His exclamation mark on that season was starting dead last in the Belgian GP, and making up 19 places by the end of the race and passing teammate Nico Rosberg in the process. In the Indian GP too, he overcame problems in qualifying to beat out Rosberg while gaining six places.

This year saw Schumacher fall into another slump. Albeit one that had pretty much nothing to do with his own form. He qualified fourth, third and third (which became second) in the first three races but one mechanical failure, an incorrectly fitted front wheel and his car’s pace dropping in the scorching Malaysian heat meant he had just one point to show for his efforts.

Two more mechanical related failures and a race ending collision meant that his efforts (which included scoring pole position at Monaco) were rewarded with just an additional point.

In the scheme of things the retirement of Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado in Valencia, due to the latter’s zealousness, was probably the luck he was overdue.

But Schumacher’s podium in Valencia was not just about luck. It was about hanging tough despite another difficult run in qualifying that put him in 12th. It was about running his tyres ragged and doggedly defending his position when a train of cars lined up behind him to try and storm by before his first pit stop. It was about managing the tyre wear on his Mercedes at a track that is not supposed to favour the W03 that has a reputation for chewing up its rear tyres in hot conditions. It was about nailing the restart after the safety car pulled into the pits.

And it was also about passing everything and anything that remotely resembled an F1 car in the closing stages with such single-minded focus that he had no idea that he had even scored a third-placed finish when he crossed the line.

And if you think all of that is not impressive then consider this little statistic. Schumacher is now the 12th oldest driver to have scored a podium finish in F1. Amongst the list of the 13 oldest F1 drivers to have scored a podium finish, only two achieved that feat in decades other than the 1950s. Jack Brabham in 1970 and Schumacher in 2012.

Given the physical demands of driving an F1 car and the trend of competitiveness amongst the heavy hitters that is only every now and again bucked by a team or driver; that is nothing to scoff at.

By Vinayak Pande

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