At the 1998 British Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher did the unthinkable by winning the race whilst in the pits.
Unsurprisingly, an enormous amount of controversy followed the result at Silverstone. Was it sneaky or was it simply cheating? For some, the English downpour represented the somber mood, it being none other than pathetic fallacy.
The soggy event was heavily marred by dismal stewarding which subsequently allowed Schumacher to take the win after a penalty was issued by them so late on that Ferrari were able to bring him into the pits on the final lap, meaning he won the race in the pit lane–before he technically served the punishment.
His offence came about as the German overtook race leader Hakkinen as the safety car exited the track. A slow response from the stewards allowed Ferrari’s morally dubious exploitation of the rules. As the drivers headed to the podium post-race, Jean Todt briefed his two drivers on the situation–Schumacher’s response was far from positive, but he still stood on the top step of the podium.
As a result, McLaren duly appealed. This was to no avail and Ferrari outwitted the FIA once again. The race stewards had failed to notify the Ferrari pit of the penalty within the time limit for doing so, which meant the penalty was rescinded. The licenses of the stewards involved were also rescinded.
The reactions of the fans and media alike may have been more lenient if this had been a one-off occurrence. However, this has happened in the past with Schumacher being accused of bending the rules. Most notably, controversy struck in 1994 when the Benetton pit crew made a very quick stop for Schumacher, getting him out in front of Ayrton Senna to lead the race.
Schumacher went on to win the grand prix after Senna spun out of the race. This sparked speculation that the Benetton team were using a system to make quicker pit stops than their rivals. Still, the allegations continued.
During the parade lap of the 1994 French Grand Prix, Schumacher, starting second, illegally overtook Damon Hill. As a result of his illegal manoeuvre, Schumacher was given a five-second penalty. Tensions were heightened when Schumacher never came into the pits to serve the penalty. Therefore, on Lap 21, Schumacher was waved the black flag.
Schumacher’s so-called rule bending in the past raised suspicions even higher at the Silverstone Grand Prix of 1998. Therefore, it is only fair to acknowledge people’s cries that there was dubious behaviour surrounding Ferrari’s and Schumacher’s actions. Nonetheless, one must not take away the sly but competitive nature of the Italian team. Ferrari and Schumacher played a dirty game, and it worked.
Can you really argue with winning within the rules? In the words of one motorsport titan: “It you ain’t first, your last.”