From villain to savior

 by Jose Arrambide
May 9, 2006

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Michael Schumacher

He was the driver everyone loved to hate, he was the favorite villain of F1. In his defense he is also the most notable and most popular F1 driver in recent times. He is Michael Schumacher.

What was he guilty of? Of becoming the most successful driver in F1 history, and the most dominant driver of his era.  He holds the record for most victories, most pole positions, most championship points and most “Driver’s Championships” (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004).

Sport fans usually don’t like it when a team or athlete dominates a sport completely - the most notable exceptions being golf’s Tiger Woods and basketball’s Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Schumacher has been accused of making F1 rather dull from 2000 till 2004, such has been his domination. The most common sight of F1 in those years was a race led by Schumacher from start to finish, which made the races rather boring, thereby increasing the number of his detractors year after year.

But if fans dislike dominating teams and athletes, they love to cheer underdogs and newcomers. Fans enjoy it every time David defeats Goliath, and in 2005 they got a David to cheer for, when Fernando Alonso ended the five year reign of Schumacher by winning the Driver’s Championship. Schumacher finished the 2005 season in an uncharacteristic 3rd place in the final standings.

The problem with underdogs is that if they start winning consistently they lose their underdog status and run the risk of becoming villains themselves. After the first 3 races of the 2006 season that saw Alonso score two victories and a second place and a lead of 14 points over his closest competitor, fans feared that Alonso would become the new Schumacher, making F1 dull again. Fans prayed for a driver to stand up and challenge Alonso for the 2006 Championship, any driver.

It seems that their prayers are being answered; the irony is that the answer has come in the form of their old villain, Michael Schumacher. After the domination of Alonso in the first 3 races (Bahrain, Malaysia and Australia), Schumacher has emerged as the only driver capable of challenging Alonso by winning the San Marino Grand Prix and the European Grand Prix, and although Alonso still enjoys a lead of 13 points thanks to his strong finishes in those two races (Alonso ended up in second place in both races) this battle is far from over with 13 more races yet to run, but Schumacher, Ferrari and Bridgestone have now proven that Alonso, Renault and Michelin can be beaten.

Can Schumacher keep his performance up throughout the rest of the season to become a real challenger for the title, and turn himself in the process from F1´s favorite villain to its savior? Only time will tell, but it appears we are in for a two horse race right down to the finale in Brazil.

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