The Michael Schumacher Disqualification

In 1984, Tyrrell were disqualified from the World Constructors Championship for their use of illegal techniques to run their cars underweight. Their results for the entire season were stripped and inherited by the runners originally behind them.

In 1997, Michael Schumacher was disqualified from the World Drivers Championship for attempting to run his Championship rival Jacques Villeneuve off the road. His results for the entire season stood, and only his place in the World Championship table was altered. Putting to one side the awful precedent that would have resulted from altering the Constructors Championship because of the actions of one driver, this article explores an alternative reality where Michael Schumacher gets the Tyrrell treatment and his results (but not his poles and fastest laps, which I have allowed to stand) are passed down to the next-best drivers.

First of all, here is what such a revised World Drivers Championship would have looked like:

The biggest winners here are Jean Alesi and Shinji Nakano. The French-Sicilian climbs to an outright (and career-best) third place in the Championship after gaining no fewer than nine points – including four from his second place at the Canadian Grand Prix being revised to his second Formula One win. Nakano makes a meteoric rise from 18th (and two points) in real life to 14th (and six points) in this timeline. It would also have rendered the Prost driver ineligible for an official GPR profile, even if he was still put in the shade by his teammates’ combined 23 points and four podiums.

For completeness, let us also have a quick look at the Constructors Championship:

Beyond Ferrari dropping all the way down to fifth place (as one would expect with all of Schumacher’s points erased), not a great deal changes. Stewart manages to pass Arrows on countback, with Barrichello’s improbable Monaco win outshining Damon Hill’s heartbreaking second place at Hungary. Meanwhile, Minardi remain pointless, while no amount of alternative realities would ever have changed Mastercard Lola’s fate

Let us look through some of the most affected drivers, and see if this change might have affected how they were remembered or indeed how their entire careers could have unfolded.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen

Actual results: 2nd in the WDC (42 points, 1 win, 7 podiums)

Adjusted results: 2nd in the WDC (53 points, 3 wins, 8 podiums)

Germany’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen is best remembered for his Außenseiter Championship challenge for Jordan in 1999, but the general opinion of his time at Williams is that he fundamentally wasted the best car on the grid. Although that wouldn’t entirely change just because of some retconned results, his now three wins do stack up much better against Villeneuve’s seven.

A happy Heinz-Harald is even happier under this scenario.

Once he’d got past the initial teething problems, Frentzen’s first-ever season in top-tier machinery was entirely respectable and this slightly massaged set of results really emphasises it. After his excellent 1999 season at Jordan (which is unchanged in this timeline), Frentzen would boast five wins, 15 podiums and a total of 124 points over the three-year period – excellent tallies for a driver who would ultimately never be World Champion.

Jean Alesi

Actual results: 4th in the WDC (36 points, 5 podiums)

Adjusted results: 3rd in the WDC (45 points, 1 win, 5 podiums)

This is certainly an interesting change, not because Alesi gains a place in the World Drivers Championship but because it somewhat changes the narrative of Alesi’s entire career, which is often remembered as a serious case of missed opportunity. In real life, Alesi’s perceived talent and instant impact in his first dozen races for Tyrrell compare disproportionately to a career that would ultimately yield only one win, inherited from Michael Schumacher after the German needed a minute-long pit stop.

An Alesi with two F1 victories would no doubt upset the space/time continuum.

Curiously, this second win – also inherited from Michael Schumacher – may have made Alesi less memorable: no longer the most prolific of the one-win wonders. A second win would instead rank him alongside the Patricks Depailler and Tambay – although still with more podiums than the pair combined.

Giancarlo Fisichella

Actual results: 8th in the WDC (20 points, 2 podiums)

Adjusted results: 8th in the WDC (29 points, 1 win, 3 podiums)

Giancarlo Fisichella had arrived in Formula One with a massive reputation, courtesy of an Italian F3 stint which yielded 11 victories and a championship in 1994 alone, followed by a couple of years as an Alfa Romeo works driver in DTM. Following a stop-start apprenticeship at Minardi the previous year, 1997 was his first full season in Formula One, driving the Jordan-Peugeot 197 alongside the similarly highly-rated Ralf Schumacher.

Fisichella beat his teammate comfortably, but with Michael Schumacher out of the way, the difference becomes even more profound. Despite no change to his Championship position, Fisichella’s debut season becomes even more headline-grabbing. His real-life second place led to Benetton signing him on the spot for ‘98, and as the Schumacher disqualification doesn’t happen until later, that doesn’t change. Would his later trajectory have changed at all? Perhaps in that post-Benetton, pre-Renault phase of his career he might have found a better drive than Jordan or Sauber. Hiring a race winner has more kudos than hiring a multi-time podium finisher. Maybe even as early as 1999, 2000 or 2001 – all of them seasons when Frank Williams was looking for a winning driver. Fisichella would have been such a driver.

Any excuse to post photos of late-1990s Jordan cars is a worthwhile endeavour.

If he does end up somewhere else though, it seems likely that he never collects the infamous win at Brazil which was initially credited to Raikkonen, thanks to a new infamous win earlier in his career which was initially credited to Schumacher. But imagine the weirdness if he’d collected both?

Rubens Barrichello

Actual results: 13th in the WDC (6 points, 1 podium)

Adjusted results: 12th in the WDC (10 points, 1 win, 1 podium)

Rubens Barrichello’s second place from tenth on the grid at the Monaco Grand Prix was already a fairytale story for the brand new Stewart team. Fast forward to the end of the season when they suddenly find out that it was a win, and it hits a little different. Of course, the emotional high of stepping up on the top step of the podium just doesn’t happen for Barrichello but he does at least head into 1998 as a race winner.

Imagine the waterworks from Rubens in this scenario, Monaco would end up like Dunwich!

Indeed, the biggest effect of this change to the timeline would appear to be the shine being somewhat taken off two future wins: firstly, the bizarre Herbert win from 14th at the Nurburgring in 1999 remains remarkable, but doesn’t have that extra shine of being his team’s first win; later, Barrichello’s classic win from 18th at Hockenheim remains heroic, but no longer has the extra emotional layer of being his first.

If anything, this extra win for a fan favourite driver just ruins several emotional high points for years to come. A good job then that it never happened.

Shinji Nakano

Actual results: 18th in the WDC (2 points)

Adjusted results: 14th in the WDC (6 points)

As previously mentioned, this change to the standings has a remarkable effect on the career of Japan’s Shinji Nakano. It comprehensively unrejectifies* him, the result being that he never gets profiled on our site.

* GPR tradition dictates that a “reject” has recorded F1 race finishes no better than two sixth places or one fifth place

aaaand Nakano Shinji is unrejectified!

Beyond that, it seems difficult to imagine a great deal more changing in his career: his drives were acquired through Japanese Yen, not through Formula One points. Unless some post-hoc points could have attracted extra sponsorship going into 1998 or ‘99, it doesn’t seem as if his career would have changed or lengthened at all.

Michael Schumacher

Actual results: DSQ from the WDC (78 points, 5 wins, 8 podiums)

Adjusted results: DSQ from the WDC (0 points, 0 wins, 0 podiums)

For Michael Schumacher, this scenario has surprisingly limited effect overall. His stats change a bit, and he carries on to the eventual period of nearly unparalleled glory with Ferrari – even if this disqualification turns 1997 into their worst Championship result since 1981. His win and podium tallies come down a little bit, but ultimately the big one (seven World Drivers Championships) remains pristinely untouched.

Michael, leave it, it’s only a hypothetical article. MICHAEL PLEASE, IT’S NOT WORTH IT!

But for Lewis Hamilton, that does make a bit of a difference. For one thing, he overtakes Schumacher’s win tally not at Portimao, but in front of the empty home stands of Silverstone. There would be something profoundly underwhelming about becoming the winningest driver in the sport’s history at his favourite and home track, only for no-one to be there to see it.

Ultimately, this is an exercise that changes little at the time, but the butterfly effect ripples outwards to affect things as distant as the British Grand Prix 23 years later. Do I think a grave error was made with this punishment a quarter-century ago? Not at all. But it is truly surprising just how many poignant moments could have been sullied if the FIA had been a bit harsher on F1’s star driver. Not that they would have known any differently, but without a doubt the alternate version of me that lived in that universe – and without doubt many of you who have chosen to read this article – would still be poring over spreadsheets and examining countless F1 what-ifs.

Next month’s Missing the Points will explore a similar premise from a different era, so keep an eye out for part two of this duology.