Commentary

Fans favor F1 star Schumacher

Updated: January 11, 2010, 4:24 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Michael SchumacherAP Photo/Eckehard SchulzF1's Michael Schumacher edged NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson for ESPN.com's Driver of the Decade.

In the end, you picked the winner. You broke the tie at the top.

And your selection for Driver of the Decade is Formula One great Michael Schumacher.

I applaud your choice. And thanks for getting all of us here at ESPN off the hook.

Here's the official top five:

1) Michael Schumacher: Seven-time Formula One champion.

2) Jimmie Johnson: The only man to win four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.

3) Valentino Rossi: Motorcycle racer with six MotoGP championships and nine overall Grand Prix world championships.

4) Sebastien Loeb: Winner of six consecutive World Rally championships.

5) Tony Schumacher: Seven-time NHRA Top Fuel champion.

Thirteen members of our racing team at ESPN picked our top five on Driver of the Decade. When those votes were tallied (five points for first, four for second, etc.) the results were a dead heat.

Jimmie Johnson and Schumacher each had 53 points.

Perfect. That meant the fan vote -- the last piece of the puzzle in this honorable prize for the first decade of the new millennium -- would decide the outcome.

The readers' choices accounted for one vote. The final vote. The difference-maker.

No, this wasn't rigged. We didn't deliberately plan it this way to give the readers more power. We just got lucky.

It was all up to you. And, frankly, your votes were a bit surprising.

Schumacher got the most points overall from 4,935 fans who voted on Friday, but not the most first-place votes.

MotoGP star Valentino Rossi easily garnered the most first-place votes among the readers -- 1,863 top votes, compared to 1,270 for Schumi. Johnson was third overall and third in first-place votes with 1,160.

That differs greatly from the ESPN panel, which had six first-place votes for Johnson, five for Schumacher, one for Rossi and one for Sam Hornish Jr.

Our votes were private, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I voted for Schumacher in the top spot.

Despite having almost 600 more first-place votes than Schumacher, Rossi lost a close battle to Schumi in the total count among fans -- 32,087 to 31,075.

Almost everyone placed Schumacher in the top three, but for Rossi, it was all or nothing. More voters placed him first, but many voters left him out of the top five entirely.

Even had Rossi won the overall total, it wouldn't have been near enough to pass Schumacher or Johnson. Rossi had 24 points among the ESPN panel of voters, 29 behind the top two before the fan vote began.

But it's hard to argue against Schumacher as the Driver of the Decade. He won five consecutive F1 championships to start the new millennium, giving Schumacher a record seven driving titles overall.

His exceptional driving talent was clear to everyone who followed F1. After a victory in the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, F1 champion Stirling Moss summed up Schumacher's victory this way: "It was not a race. It was a demonstration of brilliance."

And it got better from there.

From 2000 through 2004, Schumacher won a remarkable 48 of 85 F1 races, taking the checkered flag in 56 percent of the races. In 2004, his final championship season for Ferrari, Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races.

As a comparison, Johnson won 33 of 180 Cup races in the past five seasons -- or 18 percent of his races. Rossi won 46 percent of his motorcycle races in the past decade.

Schumacher retired after the 2006 season, but now he's returning, a highly anticipated and somewhat controversial comeback with Mercedes at age 41.

Some fans feel it's a mistake for Schumacher to risk tainting his legacy. If he succeeds after a three-year absence, he will prove again his unmatched skills as a driver.

Schumacher was the odds-on favorite to win Driver of the Decade from the start, but the impressive aspect of the voting results is how motorcycle racing and drag racing were represented in the top-five finishers.

That was true for the overall vote, but not the fan vote. The readers selected three-time IndyCar Series champion Hornish, now a Cup competitor, in the No. 5 spot.

Tony Schumacher (no relation to Michael, in case you're wondering) making the top five overall was a bit of a surprise, but an excellent choice.

Some racing followers believe drag racing doesn't deserve the same recognition as oval-track racing or road racing. The driver holds the car in a straight line for four seconds instead of controlling a vehicle on a track for two or three hours.

But holding on to a 7,000-horsepower dragster accelerating to more than 300 mph faster than a deep breath is no easy task.

Tony Schumacher has mastered the skill, winning a record six consecutive Top Fuel championships from 2004 to 2009. His seven titles have come under three different crew chiefs.

It's a prestigious list of racing superstars. But it was you, the racing fans, who determined the winner.

You guys know your stuff.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter