Odd Germans and lucky underpants

January 21, 2010

MOTOR RACING/SCHUMACHERCynics may observe that Michael Schumacher’s desire to be the odd man out in Formula One has the added bonus of always putting the German ahead of his team mate in the pecking order, even if only on paper.

What Schumacher wants, Schumacher generally gets and it comes as no shock that the new Mercedes (formerly Brawn GP) team run by his old Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn immediately granted the seven times world champion’s wish and give him the number three on his car, ahead of Nico Rosberg’s number four.

Some may be more surprised that the most successful driver Formula One has ever seen, a man able to separate his private and personal life into compartments and rationally analyse everything around him, should be seemingly so superstitious.

But maybe they shouldn’t be.

Formula One, a sport that has seen 31 races marred by fatalities since the world championship started in 1950 and many more drivers killed in other arenas, has its rituals like any other competitive activity.

The number 13, unlucky in much of the world, is not allocated to any driver while some Italians have a thing about 17 because the Roman numerals XVII, when re-arranged, spell VIXI — meaning “I have lived” in Latin and therefore suggestive of death.

Rubens Barrichello swapped with Honda team mate Jenson Button for the 2006 season, although it didn’t do the Brazilian much good, because he wanted the number 11 that he had when he took the first race win of his career, all his karting titles and his first victory in the junior Formula Ford championship.

Schumacher likes to have an odd number on his car. Admittedly he would prefer the number one but, having won all his titles with odd numbers, who is to say he is wrong to insist?

The German also carries an amulet given to him by his wife with the initials of all his family.

Some of his rivals have been rather more eccentric.

Austrian Alex Wurz used to wear one blue and one red boot at Benetton, while David Coulthard had his “lucky underpants”.

As the Scot relates in his autobiography “It is what it is”, his aunty Elaine bought him some pairs of pants when he was a youngster starting out in karting and he won every time he wore them.

 “So I kept wearing them, having them washed in between races I’d like to point out. After about two years of racing in them, they were worn through, littered with holes and looking really unsavoury. But I kept on winning, so I kept wearing.”

The future Williams, McLaren and Red Bull driver retired the pants from active service after he crashed in a junior series at Spa in 1990 and, to his embarrassment, had to be cut out of his race suit in the medical centre.

But even in his McLaren days, Coulthard still carried the underwear with him to every race in a bag along with some gold coins and a St. Christopher medallion.

“Then one day a McLaren employee was cleaning my things, saw these pants — which in all fairness were by then over a decade old — and threw them away,” he related.

Coulthard never did win the title, retiring with 13 grand prix wins. He never had any serious injuries either, though, and even survived a plane crash that killed his pilots, so maybe he was the lucky one after all.

FILE PHOTO: Former Ferrari Formula One driver Michael Schumacher attends a news conference for the release of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano China Limited Edition in Beijing in this November 3, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee

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