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.