Technology on wheels: Michael Schumacher

By : |January 1, 1998 0

Formula 1 racing is considered by many to be the most thrilling sport in the
world. And few drivers have dominated it like Michael Schumacher. Ever since he
made his Formula 1 debut in 1991, the German has won a staggering 47 races–a
figure exceeded only by Alain Prost. A three-time world champion (he is the
defending champion), the 32-year old Schumacher is considered by many to be the
greatest driver of his generation and is expected to rewrite most Formula 1
records by the time he calls it a day. Currently with Ferrari, Schumacher talks
about the influence technology has had on his profession.

Car technology has changed by leaps and bounds since you made your debut in
1991. Many fear that the car has actually become more important than the driver.
Would you agree with this?

MS I don’t see it that way. An example: If you think back to 1991 and 1992,
in 1991 Riccardo Patrese and Nigel Mansell were nearly on the same level. One
year later, with more electronics, Mansell was outpacing Patrese. Because he
could go more to the limit of his car. I see it like this: You are able to be
more constantly at the limit [of the car] with it [better electronics] and you
don’t have to take care of any power peaks of the engine. It gives us more
freedom to drive a bit faster. And the ability to handle the car permanently on
the limit is what makes a good driver.

What role has technology played in your development as a driver?

MS I am a car mechanic, this is my profession, so I have a kind of basic
experience with this [racing car technology]. As concerns the electronics, I don’t
know all the details, I am not a specialist for sure. And I don’t need to be,
as we have very good specialists in that field. But I know what electronics can
do for me, for my car. I think it is quite important to be able to communicate
properly with my engineers, to tell them more than just a "strange
feeling" I might have.

The accidents in Formula I give the impression that it is a dangerous sport.
Would you agree? What are the safety precautions taken by drivers during a race?
Do you take any additional precautions?

MS In a way it is a dangerous sport, sure. Namely, in the way that you cannot
eliminate all risks to 100 per cent. But we work hard to minimise that
percentage. We constantly try to improve safety on and off the tracks. I am one
of the directors of the GPDA, the Grand Prix Drivers Association, which
permanently is in touch with the FIA to give suggestions for improvement about
track layout, special corners, enough room in case of accidents and so on. And
we have been very successful in these improvements. As for the drivers
themselves, there are no special things beside fireproof clothes, or, maybe, not
to risk too much if you don’t have to.

We always see a crowd of technicians in the pits during a race. How important
is their role in the race?

MS Without them none of us could race. It’s as simple as this – Formula 1
is a team-sport, even if sometimes people tend to forget this. As a driver you
are very much dependant on your team. They have to control everything and, if
needed, change something.

With the advance of technology, do you think that a day will come when human
drivers will be replaced by robots? Will there be a "virtual Michael
Schumacher" some day?

MS You have that already in computer games. But in reality, no. No way! I
mean, now, with all the electronics you can use, there are people who say
monkeys could drive these cars. But believe me: they could not, at least not as

Have you played any of the computer games built around Formula 1 racing? How
close do they come to the real thing?

MS I have tried a few [computer racing games] and I haven’t had any real
feedback out of them. They are much too far away from reality. I would even deny
you could learn anything from them that has to do with real driving. Their
steering is so staccato, and our cars are so sensitive to drive. Not to speak of
the g-forces, but also simply the steering-impulses we give. Or the delay when
we break. It is very different.

Does being techno-savvy help a Formula 1 driver? How do you keep in touch
with technological developments in your field?

MS Yes, as I said earlier, it helps a lot to know what is possible or what is
going on. You are constantly in contact with the specialists in our team
(Ferrari), so you automatically keep in touch with it.

Right. Now for the wish list! If you had to make one technological change in
Formula 1 racing, what would it be?

MS I would do something very simple: Reduce the aerodynamical grip, increase
the mechanical one. That would in my eyes increase the possibility to overtake,
and that is something we all would like to see.

Finally, you are the current Formula 1 world champion and are considered to
be one of the greatest drivers of all time. So, tell us what does it take to
succeed in Formula 1?

MS If I really could tell this, everyone could do so. What I want to say with
this is that there is no special secret with it, which you can simply follow. I
think you need a lot of talent, and a lot of discipline and work ethics to make
it. The second part you can influence, the first you cannot.

By Nimish Dubey

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