Around 2003-04, I remember spending several hours agonising over what I liked better: books or F1. It was an important question and I needed a clear answer to resolve the tangle in my head. For the first time ever, F1 trumped books and as I admitted this to myself a little sorrowfully, I knew there was only one reason for this anomaly – Michael Schumacher. The resounding victories since 2001 stamped Ferrari’s dominance on the sport, and while new pretenders came in, Schumacher’s aura refused to leave even after his retirement.
I have already written quite a few times on this blog about what the Schumacher years meant to me. It wasn’t just about his race victories, but also the discipline and the hunger. My year revolved around F1 calendars; the drivers had their tests on Sundays, I had mine on Mondays. Their winter testing for the start of the season in March was analogous with my preparation for the final exams of the year. The competition and the struggle to reach or stay at the top were things I was experiencing in academics, albeit at a much smaller scale. F1 ceased being “just a sport” to me. Which is why, when people think I’m silly to worry so much about an injured German fighting for his life in a distant hospital, I don’t know how to explain things to them. Some people just won’t get it because they’re too practical or have never idolised anyone or don’t feel as strongly about things. To each his own. But when a man has defined a sport for you to such an extent that its qualities have sometimes been inseparable from life, and inspired you not just through his skills but as a human being, you feel the pain very deeply when you know he’s lying in a coma.
Many of us, all around the world, are praying hard for Michael Schumacher. Messages of support floating around on the Internet remind you how much he has influenced people everywhere. You wake up in the morning with a knot in your stomach, not knowing what has happened overnight. Here in India you have to wait till 3.30 in the afternoon for the morning updates from Europe. Three such days have gone by and the situation is still unclear. But every tiny bit of positive news is a great encouragement and source of strength. It is a relief to be able to discuss things with friends and to have sensible men like Gary Hartstein around, breaking up complex information and answering questions patiently. Michael Schumacher is an all-encompassing thought again, only in a sadly different way. Thankfully the petty stories are beginning to fade away and the regular suspects are done with their foot-in-the-mouth remarks. We now have to settle in for a long, patient, optimistic wait and send out our telepathic messages like we did when he was in a tight spot on the circuit. He has to hear us.