Michael Schumacher – Driving Analysis
He says he naturally understands the limits of the car …and then, he also says… he likes driving on the limit and is always trying to push the limits …boy …this is so very confusing…incidentally this is the only clue behind the secret of the champion’s driving!
In a more analytical world, here is a humble attempt to analyze the driving of 7 times Formula1 World Champion – Michael Schumacher.
- Super Fast: Michael uses left foot for braking and right foot for throttle (accelerator pedal). (Although most of the F1 drivers now use similar technique, this was not very common way back in late 90s. Rubens Barrichello, his Ferrari team mate (2000- 2005) used right foot for throttle as well as brakes).
This implies Michael can accelerate while braking; he goes into the corner faster and eventually comes out with additional micro second advantage over the other drivers. Following graph shows his performance along the ‘Montreal Hairpin’.Telemetry graph source: 2004 issue of F1 Racing magazine.
Michael brakes later but harder almost close to wheel locking. Even a slightest of pressure beyond this point on brake pedal would lock the wheels and car will be sliding on the track and driver will loose the control. But with Michael Schumacher behind the wheels the car is about to be pushed to the limit without loosing control and Michael does exactly that to get out of the corner quicker at almost 15kmph faster than the fellow drivers. Following telemetry graph shows the speed comparison between the two drivers.
Telemetry graph source: 2004 issue of F1 Racing magazine
The pace comes with a package of more tyre wear and fuel consumption as compared to Barrichello. As the tyre wear is apparent, it starts losing traction and further the speed and performance. Rules for 2005 prohibited tyre change and this was the major reason for Schumacher’s below par performance that season.
- Perfect Steering Control: Michael prefers oversteer set up. (In easy words oversteer is the tendency of the car to steer in excess / more of that commanded by the driver).
Michael is well known for his unique ability to understand and develop a car with perfect setup (He has made significant contribution in the design of Ferrari Enzo the Super car). He works closely on the car setup (suspension, aerodynamics, steering geometry etc) along with his race engineer and mechanics and insists that during cornering or braking, the car should follow the same trajectory as he has pre calculated. With his unmatched steering control, he prefers an oversteering car as against an understeering car that is commonly favoured by most of the drivers including Fernando Alonso. Following graph shows the steering adjustment of Schumacher Vs Herbert.
- Balancing the ‘g’ force: (g force is the force experienced by the driver while cornering. This is very common and can be experienced in road cars while turning left or right at a descent speed; though the magnitude of force that we experience is far lower as compared to F1).
While cornering the g forces on the driver and the car are tremendous. Michael in his way tries to balance these forces to some extent with his body weight pushing against the direction of the g force. For example while turning left, the g forces (centrifugal in nature) act from left to right pushing the car towards right, Michael uses his body weight and applies force through his left foot on to the car, getting that extra edge in car stability.
- The Master of Rains:
He is undisputed master when it comes to driving in wet conditions. How he can manage his aggressive driving and speed with so much control in the slippery condition? The only explanation is ….he is Michael Schumacher! Tit bits can be added like his car is set for higher downforce (ofcourse within the rules) and stronger front suspension.
- The Mind Game:
(Michael started with go karting at the age of 4 and was champion at 6)!
The mental toughness is the area where Michael scores most points over others. He won the race even when his car caught fire while refueling (2003 Austrian GP). He won the race fighting it out with his younger brother Ralf, on the day his mother expired (Imola 2003). It is his focus and love for racing that makes him what he is today. His aggressiveness on track and hunger to win is famous amongst fans and critics.
He anticipates what is coming and prepares himself for it. As per Ross Brawn (then Ferrari technical director, now head Mercedes GP) Michael is probably only driver who can talk, listen, analyze and resend information on team radio without loosing the crucial seconds. Also he is the one who can see the dark clouds coming whiling driving over 300kmph and ask his team to be ready with softer tyres even before it rains!
2011 so far: For 2011 things were anyway not going to be easy for Michael for three reasons : One, every driver had has same Pirelli tyre (believed to be softer than previous Bridgestones) and Michael’s aggressive driving complemented rapid tyre wear as compared to the most of the other drivers on track. Second, refueling ban makes the car heavy and adding to the worries, when compared with most of the other drivers, fuel consumption in case of Michael is comparatively more. Third*, I think Michael’s brain works faster than his car (the engine capacity now is 2.4L 720bhp 18000rpm Vs that of 3L and 900bhp in 2004).
Although he is at 8th position in overall Driver’s championship, 217 points behind title contender Sebastian Vettel, and even if many F1 experts have started writing his new retirement plans, I believe, Michael is holding something interesting for the remaining season.
Starting from last on the grid and storming to 5th place (almost a déjà vu of 2006 Brazilian GP), with a strong team support out there and his quest to push back the limits only to find a new one, I think he has found a new limit this time (2011 Belgium GP), new limit not in terms of that extra speed, not in terms of saving micros seconds while negotiating a corner but a new limit probably in the synergy between his driving style and the car that is governed by more than a dozen different rules.
So getting past some new limits in coming races is what I think Michael is going to enjoy and if this continues, 2012 is going to be very very promising!!
Note: *my interpretation.
- F1 Racing magazine.
- Michael Schumacher: The Edge of Greatness, by James Allen.
- ‘F2004’ brochure from Scuderia Ferrari.
- Various interviews published over the years.