I don't know what hurts more. Not having someone to root for in an F1 race, or root for an all-time favorite who is on a downward spiral. Try as I might, I can't make up my mind. All through 2007, 2008 and 2009, F1 seemed lackluster to me. My love for F1 was fed by a deep infection of Tifosi, and more specifically a Schumacher flavor of the same. Not just was I a huge fan of Ferrari and Schumacher, I loved his driving style, his rags to riches story, his determination, confidence and I could go on and on. And somehow the next crop of F1 drivers were nowhere close to being that good, according to me. We had Hamilton accused of chicanery, Alonso and Kimi notorious for their childish antics and so on. Not that Schumi was the cleanest guy ever, but according to me, his greatness far overshadowed the minor shortcomings.
And then he retired and for me F1 lost its charm. I could no longer search for that number 1 scarlet car and jump for joy as it crossed the chequered flag. I could no longer yell for joy when that same scarlet car would prevail in an overtaking manoeuvre. So for three years, I had absolutely no motivation to watch the races. People told me that I was not being right, since I was rooting for one guy and not the sport. They told me that one man does not make a sport. But for me, he did. He defined my formative F1 years.
And then last year he said that he would come out of retirement and I expected Michael Magic again. I wished for those same Sundays, that same fervor. But somehow, though Michael is back, the Magic is not. Fourth, 10th, failed to complete and 10th again. Hardly becoming of one of the best drivers of F1 history.
And there are several questions that keep swirling within my mind. Like why does a team that won last year's driver's and constructor's championship need 'turnaround'? Surely other teams would not have developed some radically new technology that Ross Brawn doesn't know about! Again, how does Nico's car perform better time after time and Schumi's lets him down always? Like in last week's race at Shanghai, I was appalled to see Michael struggling in an overtaking manoeuvre with Hamilton. It looked like as if there was a rocket engine in a locomotive! A fire raring to go, but the fuel unfortunately missing. So, no. Schumi has not lost the drive. Like in Shanghai, he swung from 9th to 18th to 5th to 10th to 7th and then to 10th again. The slide from 5 to 10 and again from 7 to 10, was owing to a mysteriously underperforming car. At which point, my heart yearns to ask a question - WHY COME BACK TO AN UNDERPERFORMING CAR??? And I also know the answer, that he is perhaps here to make the team strong and truly multiple World Championship winner material. Much like his role at Ferrari that was going title-less from 1979 to 1999, and so narrowly missed a championship victory in 1999 owing to Schumi's accident. And so, I hold hope.
But what hurts me the most is the neglect in the media. Newspapers rarely cover Schumi. Even the sports channels seldom ever pan across to his car, unless he is involved in some wheel-to-wheel racing somewhere, which unfortunately has been missing so far. So, for an ardent fan like me, this season is beautiful, yet painful. I get to see some Schumacher here and there, but no ceremonial jump on the top step. No unending discussion about his sterling driving skills. I guess this is how F1 was before the 1999 era of Schumacher domination. Does that mean 2011 would be much like 2000??? I am ready to wait and watch.