LONDON, Sept 16, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - Even at 42, with more titles and race wins than anyone else, Michael Schumacher cannot drive away from controversy. It dogs him wherever he goes. After the romance of his stirring drive to fifth place in the Belgian Grand Prix last month on the circuit where he made his F1 debut 20 years earlier, the seven-times champion reminded us all of his more belligerent and bruising side en route to the same finish in last weekend's Italian Grand Prix.
It may not have been akin to the title-deciding incidents at Adelaide in 1994 or Jerez in 1997, but it did stir up some memories - and Lewis Hamilton had good reason to grimace as he struggled to keep a still tongue during the
Schumacher's former Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello must have watched the incidents with a knowing grin too. The one-time red baron had left the Brazilian with nowhere to go during the Hungarian Grand Prix last year. Predictably, the Monza manifestation of Mercedes' muscle divided opinion, but the majority of the drivers were clearly with Hamilton and Mercedes in complaining that Schumacher had stretched the rules to breaking point.
McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh described it as 'pretty harsh' and Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber declared that the German was 'pushing the boundaries' by making more than his one permitted defensive move. Webber said Schumacher's driving was not what other racers understood as acceptable. Webber said: "It was a unique fight between Michael and Lewis because the McLaren was running up against the rev limiter, so Michael had a speed advantage on the straights. "He could position his car very cutely to try to keep him out. There were a few times when Michael returned to the normal line having defended. That's the point of interest because it's not what most drivers understand to be acceptable."
According to Whitmarsh, Schumacher was warned twice by the race stewards, but he received solid backing this week from the head of Mercedes cars Dieter Zetsche. "Michael did a great job with a car that is still not yet quite at the same level as our best competitors," said Zetsche. "It was a thrilling battle over 20 laps -- pure racing. I was so excited that I almost wanted to climb inside the TV! It was absolutely of the highest class."
Given his own record of incidents and alleged misdemeanours this year, it was no surprise that Hamilton had little criticism to offer against Schumacher after the race. But the 26-year-old Englishman will have made a mental note and - having seen how his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button surged past the Mercedes man - may in future be more forthright himself on and off the track.