Magazine article The Spectator

Prize Formula

Magazine article The Spectator

Prize Formula

Article excerpt

THE FORMULA One motor-racing season roars to its conclusion in Japan this weekend and the world's attention centres once again on Michael Schumacher's campaign to make motor-racing a contact sport. A year that began as the most boring and predictable season in the sport's history has boiled to a frenzied climax - largely because of Schumacher's skill in the crash.

The turning-point came when he took out David Coulthard. His subsequent closing-in on the runaway leader, Mika Hakkinen, has made for great sport, and four points separate the two of them as they go into the final race.

Talk is full of what villainies we can expect. The conundrum turns on the fact that a crash has to be the right kind of crash: Schumacher is the one that trails, and a crash that takes out both drivers would leave Schumacher the loser.

If there is one thing a sport needs, perhaps even more than a hero, it is a villain. If you can get one person or team to fulfil both roles, then you will get top ratings. Schumacher is adored in Germany, and also in Italy because he drives for Ferrari. He is hated in this country.

This is partly because of his famous crash, when he took out Damon Hill in 1995 and took the world championship for himself. He went unpunished for this, er, accident. But more, it is Schumacher's nature. It is not because he is German - Boris Becker was and is greatly loved in this country. Rather, it is something about Schumacher himself, something that is completely indigestible. His talent is undeniable, in fact it serves mainly to stoke up the fires against himself. I am reminded of a character in that essential reading, the Modesty Blaise novels, in which the Graduate is compared to Modesty's ineffable right-hand man, Willie Garvin. …

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