It was supposed to be a duel of titans and a clash of generations, but it ended in tragedy, after Ayrton Senna died in a crash in the third race of the 1994 season, with Michael Schumacher pushing closely behind.
Schumacher won the race and went on to become the most victorious champion in history, breaking all the records. He broke the last big one two weeks ago at the same track where Senna died – in Imola, Italy – passing Senna’s record of 65 pole positions. The German won,but this time he was the one tailgated by a young champion, Fernando Alonso.
As Schumacher returns home for the European Grand Prix in Germany on Sunday, having taken Senna’s greatest record – Alain Prost and Jim Clark follow with 33 poles – is it finally possible to compare Schumacher and Senna?
Schumacher and Senna only racedeach other from mid-1991 to early 1994. Senna set his pole record in 74 fewer races. While Senna had Prost as a titled opponent and teammate, Schumacher has had no lasting challenger, and no comparable teammate.
Gerhard Berger, one of Senna’s teammates, said that had Senna not died, he would hold all the records.
“Formula One would have been the most boring thing that we have ever seen because Senna would have been on pole at every race and would have won every race,” Berger said.
Although Schumacher won the first three races in 1994, Senna held pole position at each of them in a Williams that still needed developing, one that would win titles for Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in 1996 and 1997.
“The fact is that Michael it is doing a job like Ayrton did,” Berger said.
Although Schumacher and Senna were equally ruthless – both knocked competitors off the track to win titles – they had vastly different approaches.
“Michael’s is more a cool German way, an analytical way, and the other one was fully Latin and emotional,” Berger said.
While Senna and Prost had a fiery relationship at McLaren in 1988 and 1989, Senna got along with his other teammates yet had a domineering relationship with others in his team.
“As a teammate,” said Berger, who befriended Senna, “I realized he was quick on street circuits, quick on quick circuits, quick in the wet, quick in the dry, good in the race, good in qualifying.And I said to myself that this is to be respected and I should not try to find ways to put his performance down or to make his performance look worse.”
Schumacher dominates teammates by drawing the team around him. Hehas good relationships with his engineers.
Johnny Herbert said that when he raced with Schumacher at Benetton in
1995, he was frustrated to find that starting with the second race he could not consult Schumacher’s data, whereas Schumacher could see his.
“You look at each other’s, and you can see where you’re better and where your worse,” he said. “And I never saw that, and that lasted three or maybe four races. It came back later, but the damage was already done to me.”
He said that was more the team’s fault than that of Schumacher, whom he respects. He said both Senna and Schumacher were often thought of as difficult by the press because they were so focused during race weekends working on the car that they were often inaccessible.
Nigel Roebuck, a journalist at Autosport magazine, called Senna and Schumacher “absolute autocrats.”
“Schumacher has never had a superstar in the other car,” he said. “Senna and Prost suffered for it, too, but at least they had the confidence to say ‘Well, I don’t care who you put in the other car, I’ll beat him.'”
Bernard Dudot, head of the Renault engine program in the mid-1980s when Senna raced in a Lotus with a Renault engine and in the mid-1990s when Senna and Schumacher raced with Renault engines at Williams and Benetton, said both were skilled technically. But Schumacher, he said, has a greater understanding of every area – engine, aerodynamics, chassis and tires.
“Michael came up with strong proposals – as a driver, of course; he didn’t try to play the engineer – and he knew exactly what he would need,” Dudot said. “We did things on the engine at that time that we would never have done – or never have developed – had it not been him.
“Senna imposed more than he proposed. He succeeded, but I think that in a team, Michael adds more than Ayrton, because Ayrton put huge pressure on the engineers. In general, he was not often wrong, but he worked differently, without delegating.”
Schumacher also has the stigma of teammates’ having to let him win, particularly when Rubens Barrichello was forced to do so in Austria in early 2002.
Berger also helped Senna in 1991, but Senna repaid him at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, the next-to-last race.
“I had been on pole,” Berger said, “but then my exhaust broke, and I had no chance to win, so I slowed and allowed Ayrton to pass. Then, as we came around on the last lap, near the finish line, I saw him slowing down, and I laughed and said, ‘O.K., he’s running out of fuel or something.’ In fact, he was slowing down to give me the victory.”
source: © iht.com/sports