This was written in either late 2000 or early 2001 - it's a brilliant insight into the battles that Hakkinen and Schumacher shared. Brundle is one of the best journalists around
Schuey v Mika
By Martin Brundle
ITV-F1's Martin Brundle is a remarkable man. Once a top-line Formula 1 driver, he is now televised sport's most expert 'expert'. He has also been a team-mate in F1 to both Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. Never before has he rolled out the anecdotes, compared and contrasted the two men's characters, spilled the beans. Until now. Who better to deliver final judgement?
Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen are the two men to beat in Formula 1 today. But you don't need me to tell you that their records speak for themselves. Conventional wisdom says that Michael is number one, Mika number two. But, like everything in F1, it's not as simple as that.
I know both men pretty well. I was Michael's team-mate at Benetton in 1992, and Mika's at McLaren in '94. And, as a commentator for ITV Sport, it's been my job to analyse and interview them from a journalistic perspective for the past four years.
So who's better, in my view? Well, it's a close call. Michael is unbelievably confident, -always was. I remember one particular debrief in '92. Tom Walkinshaw, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and myself had all agreed on a certain strategy - whereupon Michael, in his first full season of F1, said, "No, I don't agree." It wasn't an arcane point, but Michael was demonstrably wrong. It was almost comical, in fact. But what I found remarkable was that he was prepared to argue against all that experience. That really impressed me. And, even better, once his argument had been laboriously dismantled, he had the good grace to say, "Sorry. You were right. I was wrong."
He's a nice man off the track, but he has always been ruthless on it. He tried to have me off the track several times in '92. But, again, one day in '95, when he was still at Benetton and I'd moved to Ligier, over dinner he said, "I now realise how wrong it was to fight my team-mate like that back in '92." So he's not the arrogant and aloof champion people make him out to be.
He was always a thinker though, even in the early days. I remember Spa '92, when we were running nose to tail in the rain, him ahead. As we came through Raidillon I felt a lot of grip, and I thought, "I'm coming in for slicks." A few corners later, at Pouhon, I felt it again, and I thought, "Yes, this lap." Then Michael went off the road at Stavelot, gathered it up on the wet grass, just missing the barrier - I'll never know how - and I thought, "Maybe there's not so much grip. I'll do one more lap." I was aware that Thierry Boutsen had already taken slicks and had immediately crashed heavily. Anyway, the pitstop entry was after the Bus Stop in those days, and Michael was right on my tail - really on it as we braked for that challenging chicane. And yet what he was doing was checking out my rear tyres! You see, it's hard to examine your own, because on the straights you just see a blur; and in the corners you don't really want to be spending too much time looking in your mirrors. You're kind of busy with the view ahead. And that was a clever thing of Michael to do, in the heat of the moment, having just gone off at a fast corner, at Spa, in the wet. Remarkable.
Of course, Michael saw the damage on my tyres and decided to take the slicks that I suppose I should have had. And he won the race. It's those pivotal moments that make the difference between being good and being great. I think that story shows the mental capacity he had -even then, in his first full F1 season -to drive an F1 car on the ragged edge and at the same time think analytically about what was going on around him.
Mika is a very different animal. I didn't have a great relationship with him in '94. It was a difficult time for McLaren. Ayrton Senna had left to join Williams, then he died and the team, McLaren, were to grief-stricken. In their eyes I wasn't Ayrton - and nor was Mika. The Peugeot engines were unreliable, and the car wasn't top-drawer.
So Mika and I were under strain. We didn't get on that well and a lot of it was my fault, I now admit. I was new to the team while Mika had been there a year already, and I was on the back foot a lot of the time, having signed for the drive just 72 hours before first practice for the first race.
I like to think I've got a good relationship with Mika now, but he will never be as chatty as Michael. Michael likes a good long talk. -I once chewed the fat with him for three hours solid on a long flight. Not Mika. On the face of it, he's quite taciturn. But that's only half the story. There are two Mika Hakkinens, you see. There's the press conference Mika - the taciturn one - and the private Mika.
And the private Mika is a bit of a party animal, to be honest. People who don't know him sometimes think he's thick, but he's far from thick. He's a quiet thinker. He's highly intelligent, in fact - you don't win two world drivers' championships without being extremely bright. But, more than that, he's streetwise. Michael is a far more readable book.
Mika minimises extraneous mental clutter. In '94 I remember going with him to the circuit from the airport, somewhere or other, and he was driving. As we approached each slip road, he would automatically take it. And I'd shout, "No, no, Mika. Not this way." And he'd cruise back on to the motorway. And it would be the same at the next junction. I gradually realised that he didn't really want to learn the way. I'd always travel with pre-packed maps and directions -a grand prix dossier, if you like- because I'm that type of person. But Mika didn't want his mind to be encumbered by that kind of trivia. Similarly, Mika has managed to avoid the level of superstardom that Michael has to cope with. Is that accidental, or is it that he shuns the limelight for strategic reasons?
One thing's for sure: Mika isn't about to tell anyone the answer to that question.
So much for their characters, but what of their in-cockpit approaches? Well, their driving styles are similar. They both drive the car slightly 'loose'. They can both live with a car that's moving around at the back - Michael more so than Mika. Michael is very acrobatic. So many F1 cars tend to move progressively towards oversteer during the life of the tyres, yet Michael can live with that happily.
And I think it's that ability to improvise in an attacking way - to adapt to changing grip levels and variable 'feel' - that makes him so strong in a race. Michael can operate very close to a constantly-changing limit while that mutation is occurring. As a result, in the wet -or, more specifically, in inconsistent drizzle he's unbeatable.
Mika is good in the rain, but Michael is in another league. He's also supremely good at reading a race. Better than anyone else, he can take on board what he's being told over the radio, and respond accordingly on the track. Ferrari have won a lot of races that way. Michael can turn up the wick where Mika sometimes doesn't seem able to.
But, perhaps counter-intuitively, when the chips are down in a crunch race I'd put my money on Mika. We've seen that a few times now -Nürburgring '98 and Suzuka '99 spring to mind. Historically, when it's man against man, Mika is more likely to deliver the perfect race under pressure than Michael is. And the reason is that Michael is more liable to overdrive in those circumstances.
In extremis, Mika makes fewer mistakes. As a team-mate, you tend to focus on your opposite number's performance in the 'hero' corners -ultra-fast places like Eau Rouge, 130R and so on -and there's no doubt that both men were extremely brave at places like that. They still are. But of the two of them it was Mika who really caught my attention in the white-knuckle, hold-your-breath-and-pray department. You'd look at his telemetry traces and say to yourself, "How can that be possible? How can he do that?" In dry qualifying, he really opened my eyes on a few occasions. Michael was more consistent, more always there, every corner, every lap.
Besides, there's often very little actual time to be gained in the quick corners. It's in the slow turns - long second-or third-gear bends in which you spend a lot more time than you do in superfast fifth - or sixth-gear flicks, for example -that real time can be won. Both drivers have a truly fantastic ability to maintain apex minimum speed in apparently straightforward corners - to prevent the appearance of a V-shaped dip in the track-speed line on their telemetry traces, if you like.
With both of them, the apex deceleration is smoothed out - it's more of a U than a V - and I've rarely seen that. It only works out as a couple of miles per hour, but it's consistently there and it makes a significant cumulative difference.
So how is it achieved? Mika uses the pedals smoothly. He didn't always brake later than I did - in fact, I often braked later than Mika and I think David Coulthard does the same today - but Mika is very good at synchronising the application and release of throttle and brakes.
Michael is also strong in this area, but he likes to steer the car with the throttle a bit more than Mika does. He's not quite as fluid. The net result is remarkably similar: a higher apex minimum speed, and the ability to set the car up for that apex so that once power is applied, the car is straighter sooner - so it's ready to accelerate away from the corner earlier and faster.
Again, it's Mika who is slightly better here. He always seemed able to apply virtually full throttle very early and have less wheelspin than I was having with less throttle. I looked at it very carefully in '94, and I think the key was, is, - the couple of degrees of controlled sliding that he introduces to the car on the turn-in. If you're sideways, you're wasting time, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about arriving at a corner, dialling in a smidgen of attitude, and springboarding off that attitude rather than correcting it. Michael achieves something very similar by teasing the back end of the car with the throttle. And I'm talking about graph paper now -telemetry, computers, science, fact. Black and white. Those two guys can maintain forward motion more of the time than most others can.
And in slow corners -places like Club at Silverstone - it delivers real, tangible benefit. Although their slightly differing approaches achieve extremely similar results, Mika's technique is a little smoother - the result is, predictably, that Michael uses his tyres more heavily. Lately, that has helped him in qualifying. He can get hard tyres working hotter earlier than Mika can -but it can punish him during a race if tyre degradation is a factor.
Mika maximises the width of the track better than anybody else - but, again, Michael is very close. They 'widen' the track - ease the racing line - in different ways. Mika turns in from a very wide line - he isn't afraid to brake on the white lines that mark the track perimeter (except in the wet, of course, when to do so is suicidal). In fact, he uses the paint to induce the attitude I mentioned earlier. In fact, in qualifying Mika will sometimes even take to the grass on entry. Michael approaches corners from a narrower angle, but often uses more apex kerb than Mika does - especially in qualifying.
Overall, though, Mika is the better qualifier. At McLaren we used to talk about "ringing the three bells" - which meant getting all three lap sectors just right. Mika was brilliant at it, and he's even better now. He can build up to a truly spectacular qualifying run. Again, a Mika pole lap will be smooth, crisp and faultless -where a Michael equivalent will be a tad more ragged. He might overcook it in one corner and lose a tenth. It's still pole, but it isn't quite as perfect.
In terms of overtaking and lapping, they are both extremely good. I couldn't choose between the two. Michael has a small advantage in that his car is red. I really believe that. It just shows up in your mirrors in a way that a grey car never can. I'm thinking of Senna here: a Day-Glo yellow helmet sticking out of a Day-Glo orange Formula 1 car.
If the Senna-McLaren combo was 100% intimidation, then Schumacher-Ferrari is 95% and Hakkinen-McLaren 90%. If Michael has one significant chink in his armour, it's his starting. He isn't good at it. At Benetton Michael could outqualify me, but I'm sure he was usually looking in his mirrors at the start.
As a result he ran into a lot of people on lap one, trying to work out where I was going to be at the first corner. Mika is a magnificent starter. Starting is all about the head. OK, you need skill, balancing revs and clutch and throttle and so on,- but it's a pretty mechanical task, in truth.
The real problem is doing it under pressure - and the pressure, for the likes of Michael and Mika, is intense. Mika's starting is the barometer by which all others in F1 today should measure theirs whereas, for Michael, it's a constant cause of trouble. Not only does his mediocre performance in this area lose him places before the first corner but it also gets him into accidents.Too often he's moving backwards relative to cars behind him, which lead to first-corner shunts like those at Hockenheim and Austria last year. And that's why Mika is so hard to beat: because he's a fantastic qualifier and a fabulous starter, he's likely to be first into the first corner a very high proportion of the time. And that puts him in control from the beginning.
Even so, I think Michael will be an even tougher proposition in 2001. Now that the ghost of 1979 has been laid to rest, and Ferrari have got their elusive drivers' championship at last, I think he'll be a bit good. He may even step up a level. But the same could be true of Mika. - Michael certainly thinks so. He recently said he thought Mika would be strengthened by becoming a father, -the theory being that in times of stress a stable home life helps you get through. Mind you, Mika has always been very strong under pressure.
So, who is the better? I've got to stick my neck out, haven't I? You'd never forgive me if I signed off without giving one or other of them the nod. Let me put it this way. Of all the drivers I've raced against, the best was Senna. No question. In terms of the whole package, Michael runs him pretty close, with Mika a close third.
In terms of raw, God-given talent, Senna is still number one - but it's Mika, not Michael, who comes closest. If Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen were in the same Formula 1 team, with the same equipment, during qualifying, in the dry, and you asked me to stake my kids' building society accounts on who would bag the pole, I'd put my money on Mika.
But Michael would win the race.
There, I've said it.