Not for the first time this season Michael Schumacher crossed the line with his driving when he nearly put Rubens Barrichello in the pit wall during the closing laps of the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday. I said after the Canadian Grand Prix in June that Schumacher was driving like a desperate man following incidents with Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa, and I think you could see that his actions behind the steering wheel at the Hungaroring were again those of a desperate man.
It is another case of him thinking that something is acceptable because an accident did not happen, and he will argue that he gave the other car enough room. It was a frightening incident and one that could have been very dangerous if it had gone wrong. Schumacher was struggling in 10th position on worn tyres on his Mercedes GP car and was being harried by Barrichello's Williams-Toyota, which was much quicker after making a late change to the soft tyres.
As Barrichello moved out of his slipstream to overtake going down the start-finish straight on lap 66, Schumacher moved from the middle of the track to the right in an attempt to block him. Schumacher will hide behind the fact that you are allowed to make one movement in trying to stop a rival getting past you, and he did just make one move. The problem was that he kept on going with that move and kept pushing Barrichello until the Brazilian almost went into the pit wall, then had to run across the pit exit, and then still had to put a wheel on the grass before he was able to move back on to the track and complete the pass.
If someone had been coming out of the pits as the incident was occurring, the consequences could have been disastrous but, luckily for the pair, the pit lane was empty. It was dangerous and irresponsible driving from Schumacher. He can claim that he left enough room for Barrichello to get through, but it was still a horrible piece of driving. Schumacher's claim, no matter how bad his driving has been, is that he always leaves the other driver enough space on the track, and that it should not be easy to overtake in the sport.
It is an arrogant attitude, and one that Schumacher has always carried. Even if every other driver thinks he is in the wrong, he is always in the right. In Canada this year he forced Kubica's Renault off the road as the Pole tried to pass him. Later in the race in Montreal he kept squeezing Massa's Ferrari until the Brazilian ran out of space and broke his front wing against the rear of Schumacher's car.
In my view, both were incidents where Schumacher again pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable. There is a code among the drivers on what is OK regarding racecraft, and Schumacher has again taken a law and pushed it to the extreme. The stewards were right to punish him for his driving by giving him a 10-place grid penalty for the Belgium Grand Prix, which is going to make a race that he was probably looking forward to into another hard one in what is turning into a very difficult season for him.
He has won five times at Spa-Francorchamps but, given how he and his Mercedes have fared this season, he would have been struggling to make the top 10 even before the penalty. The end of the season will not get any better for him, realistically, with Mercedes already announcing their intentions to stop developing this year's car and instead work on their 2011 package. But while the chance of strong finishes is going to diminish, the most important thing for Schumacher will be to get closer to his teammate Nico Rosberg before the season ends in Abu Dhabi in November.
Rosberg in my view has done a grand job this season. He has raised his game and has out-driven, out-qualified and out-scored his more experienced compatriot. One thing that you can say about Schumacher is that he never gives up and he will be working desperately hard to improve and find more speed. This has been arguably his worst season in the sport in terms of results and he is desperate to show it was not a mistake to come out of retirement.
Johnny Herbert is a former Formula One driver who competed in 161 races, winning three times. @Email:email@example.com