On This Day in #F1: 27th May 2006

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Jennie Mowbray

– 2006: Michael Schumacher stripped of Pole Position

“Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!”

~Charles Dickens – David Copperfield~


Monaco. Imposing buildings soar over the narrow ribbon of black pavement below. Sunlight sparkles on the harbour teaming with snow-white yachts. A labyrinth of twisting convoluted corners. Walls and Armco close in on every side. One miniscule mistake results in a trail of carbon fibre. Passing is virtually impossible. To have the best chance of victory requires placing your car on pole.

Then there are the legends. Graham Hill, also known as Mr. Monaco, achieving five wins in seven years. Ayrton Senna with his still unbeaten five wins in a row and six in total. Michael Schumacher giving everything for a sixth win in 2006 and in his attempt to do so parks his scarlet Ferrari at La Rascasse.

Some of the circumstances of the Monaco 2006 weekend are indisputable. Schumacher was on his final flying lap when, coming into La Rascasse, he briefly locked his right front wheel. His car proceeded to go wide, heading towards the wall, but fortunately not colliding with it. The engine went silent, his car still close to the racing line. At his heels was Fernando Alonso who had just set a purple first sector and was three tenths up on Schumacher’s best time. Suddenly there were yellow flags waving in front of him and he had to lift. Qualifying was over. Schumacher was on pole.

Other things we will never know. Schumacher’s reputation had gone before him, his willingness to do anything for a win. Immediately after the end of qualifying, even while Schumacher was still waving to the crowds, every other team protested. The stewards met. They gave their decision. Schumacher would start the race from last place on the grid, all his qualifying times nullified.

“The stewards can find no justifiable reason for the driver to have braked with such undue, excessive and unusual pressure at this part of the circuit, and are therefore left with no alternatives but to conclude that the driver deliberately stopped his car on the circuit in the last few minutes of qualifying, at a time at which he had thus far set the fastest lap time.”

As Oscar Wilde wrote in The Importance of Being Earnest, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” And what was the truth. Had the seven times world champion made an uncharacteristic error? Had he made a small mistake and then had the sudden awareness he could use it to capture pole? Had he pre-planned it all? We will never know. Schumacher had never before admitted fault for an incident and he wasn’t going to start now. Ferrari and Schumacher protested their innocence and never backed down.

It was at Schumacher’s second retirement in 2012 that he said, “In the past six years I have learned a lot about myself. For example, that you can open yourself without losing focus. That losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning. Sometimes I lost sight of this in the early years. But you appreciate to be able to do what you love to do. That you should live your convictions and I was able to do so.”

Perhaps this would be closest that Michael Schumacher would ever get to an apology, the realisation that just maybe there is more to racing than winning alone.


13 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 27th May 2006

  1. to me, it’s quite a point
    I felt uncomfortable then, as I feel now, ’cause Schumi was my childhood and teenage hero

    quite an emotional post, Jennie
    sincerely, I am deeply touched, don’t know what to say …

    our thoughts will always be with you …

    • I wrote this quite a few weeks ago so it wasn’t written in response to what happened on the weekend…

      I also came from the background of not following F1 at the time so when I started researching it I expected to find more of what has been discussed with the recent Nico incident – that there would be things written both for and against Schumacher.

      I couldn’t find anyone who wrote that it was an accident – yet I still felt that it was possible that it was just an accident – that what Schumacher had done over the years had coloured how people looked at the incident…when I started writing about it I really wanted to not make it black and white…I still felt there was a chance that it was an accident so hopefully that came across…

      I really appreciate your thoughtful reply and how you picked up the emotion I felt while writing it…

  2. I believed he did it on purpose. Back than and still today. For me schumi will always be the one with the dirty tricks. He maybe 7 times world champion but he’ll never be the greatest.

      • I never said those two are nice guys. But schumi, in my opinion, is one of the worst.

      • Aided considerably by a French governing body, headed by a French autocrat. It was Balestre’s interference of the 1989 championship that prompted Max Mosley to step in and challenge his leadership.
        Considering what we know of Mosley, it says a lot that he was disgusted by the French politics.

  3. To this day I’m saddened by how quick everyone was to assume it was a deliberate move, and at the stewards for not properly understanding the incident. He locked his brakes entering Rascasse, got off the brakes to unlock them, then stood hard on the brakes to avoid crashing into the fence, and then couldn’t get the car into reverse. It’s as simple as that. He was much more sporting than the likes of Prost and Senna, but that’s not how the popular opinion sees it.

    • Thanks Mark for your comment – I tried really hard to find an article on the internet that said it wasn’t an accident but was unable to do so…nevertheless I still felt that it was possible – that what Schumacher had done over the years had coloured how it was viewed at the time…

        • Thanks Jennie. I think a critical factor in this whole thing is that the very first replay they showed of the incident (it wasn’t shown live as I recall) was in super-slow motion. But it didn’t have the “slow-motion replay” label on it, so people may well have interpreted it as happening in normal speed – and so seen MS effectively trundling to a slow stop against the barrier. The normal-speed replays (that I saw on youtube) made much more sense in terms of what happened. But of course by then the damage had been done.

          And the default reaction of everyone that he’d parked on purpose really took me by surprise. In fact I believe the immediate response of everyone to the incident is one of the key factors in Michael deciding to retire from F1. There were a lot of haters out there that refused to ever give him the benefit of the doubt. Still are.

          • I really appreciated hearing what you thought at the time because as I mentioned above, I don’t have any memories of what was thought or said at the time because I wasn’t following F1…

            When I started researching this I also didn’t have any preconceived opinion as I had only seen Michael racing in his comeback for Mercedes…

            What you said about the slow-motion replays at the time was very interesting – and as you say, once the media had public opinion on their side it can be very difficult to change, especially if the media isn’t interested in changing their minds…

            I did however expect to find a lone dissenting voice in my research as I’m sure it couldn’t be completely black and white – there must have been someone who spoke out against it at the time…the fact that there isn’t doesn’t make me think it’s impossible for it to have been an accident – it makes me think that there are other reasons why it’s not thought to be an accident due to the media portrayal of Schumacher..but I don’t know how Schumacher was generally portrayed by the media at that time…

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