Men versus Boys

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.

By Carlo Caluccio

I started writing this week’s entries because I was thinking to the upcoming Malaysian GP. Singapore is called the toughest race on the calendar, high humidity, high temperatures and a tough street circuit run under lights which commands concentration.

Previous to this, Malaysia was always regarded as the most extreme challenge faced by the teams and drivers. Stifling humidity mixed with scorching temperatures which showcased itself on anyone that was being interviewed on camera.

1999 was the debut year for what I consider the greatest Tilke circuit. Nothing else since has come anywhere close in regards layout or racing and for a number of years at the turn of the century, the only driver who seemed to be enjoying the Asian circuit was Michael Schumacher.

The young German had proven an immense athlete from when he entered the top echelons of the sport. Ayrton Senna had changed the face of F1 back in the 80’s. His intensity in regards every aspect of the sport humbled most opposition or forced a revaluation of the commitment required to succeed. When Schumacher arrived, it was his fitness that raised the benchmark for the coming generation.

He had contracts with Technogym who supplied a transporter with a mobile gym for his exclusive use throughout a GP weekend. He had scientists who would take blood samples during testing sessions and over the course of a race weekend. This technology was allied to nutritionists which meant his body was always working to its maximum efficiency.

Commentators spoke of Schumacher’s skin almost having a glean because he looked so healthy and it was being noticed that in spite of the atmospheric conditions he never sweated!

Michael arrived in Malaysia for its inaugural event tasked with getting Ferrari’s championship campaign back on track. He had broken his leg in an accident at Silverstone after hitting a wall during the first lap. The recuperation had taken some months and six races which had removed MSC from the title challenge. But his team-mate Eddie Irvine was still in the frame.

For some time Michael had been in too much pain to return and legend has it that Luca de Montezemolo had called his home to ask about his well-being. His daughter answered and replied that ‘daddy was outside playing football’.

I’m a Ferrari fan. Italian to boot and it had been almost twenty years since we had celebrated a driver’s title. Michael refusing to help his team-mate out, the obnoxious Eddie Irvine, was completely understandable to me. But I would say I’m a little unusual in what I see as fandom. Senna, Mclaren driver, taking Prost, Ferrari driver, off the road in Suzuka 1990 made perfect sense to me. It’s about passion and desire.

What I found saddest about the saga is I believed he could have returned many races before and still fought for the title. If a biker falls off his mount, like Rossi in 2010, they are back in action in ridiculous time – seemingly irrespective of injury. It is a mind-set that stretches back to the pioneers of motor-bike racing.

Yet a mere 23 years between Ferrari legends, Lauda returned within 6 weeks from being given the last rites and just missed out on the title. Schumacher had to be forced back into a CAR because his child had answered the phone.