Michael Schumacher is well known as one of the best drivers, if not the best, that ever graced the Formula 1 grid. Certainly, during his time, he was the driver to beat, and with Ferrari he elevated the team’s performance from a mid-table team to a title contender. In this blog, we are going to explore the depths of Michael Schumacher’s talent, his remarkable success story with Ferrari, and much more.
His first taste of racing came from karting, and he blitzed the field even at a young age. He advanced through the ranks until Mercedes approached him to race in one of their sports car competitions. Straight away, he was quicker and more efficient with his fuel consumption, which showed that he had something special within. Being a tough competitor might not always work for the best, especially when you are a young prospect as Michael was, as he ruffled some feathers in order to improve the team. After a promising spell with the Mercedes team, Jordan acquired his services for a one-off drive in their Formula 1 car. The team saw the potential in Schumacher and wanted to give him a chance at the pinnacle of the sporting world. He took that opportunity, and in his maiden qualifying session, he qualified in seventh place at Spa – a track in which he did little running in the past. A mechanical fault ended the German’s race in a couple of laps making it a bittersweet moment for him.
After that weekend, the whole paddock was alerted to the great talent of Michael Schumacher, and it was Benetton that sealed the deal with him for the 1991 Formula 1 season. During his time with Benetton, he developed a rivalry with Ayrton Senna, who at that time, was at his peak, and one might say that his position at the top might be threatened by this young buck. Despite some drama on the track between the two, as the season went on, they developed great respect for each other.
In 1994 and 1995, Michael Schumacher sealed his first two-driver’s Championship. He wasn’t only a professional driver but he also wanted to know what goes on in the factory—knowing how different parts of the car work so that he can extract more performance out of it on the track. After a fruitful spell with Benetton, Ferrari came calling, and when they call, you respond.
Move to Ferrari (1996-2006)
Moving to Ferrari was the perfect move for the German; the car has been improving over the years, and with his arrival, he elevated the performance, making them an irresistible team. The team had some struggles in the 90s as the V12 engine was no longer competitive against the smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient V10’s that their competitors had. Notably, Alain Prost had given the car labels such as ‘’truck’’ and “accident waiting to happen’’; enter Michael Schumacher, and he declared Ferrari’s F310 good enough to win a championship.
The first experience for the German in a Ferrari was in Winter testing when he drove the Ferrari 412 T2, where he was two seconds faster than former regulars Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger had been. Being that faster on his first try showed that he is on another level compared to his teammates. The situation at Ferrari was not ideal as the once-great team was fast becoming a midfield team. With Schumacher’s arrival the team, reeled in Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn which was the ultimate shift in power. During the first year with Ferrari, Michael Schumacher finished in third place in the Drivers’ Championship and led his team to second place in the Constructors Championship. The car was not without its faults and hiccups; Schumacher did not finish in seven of the 16 races in the calendar. At the French Grand Prix, Schumacher took pole position but suffered an engine failure on the formation lap. He took the first win in Spain, where he demonstrated what a truly brilliant driver he is in appalling conditions, managing to lap the entire field up to third place.
The 1997 championship was contested between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, which went to the wire. The Williams driver took an early lead in the first couple of races, but Michael Schumacher fought back, winning five consecutive races, giving him a slender lead to protect for the final race. It looked like a race win for Schumacher, but a coolant leak developed as the race went on, resulting in a loss of power. Jacques Villeneuve seized the opportunity and took the position, and later the Ferrari had to retire with no points scored.
A very similar situation occurred the following year, but the main rival this time around was Mika Hakkinen in the Mclaren. The Finnish driver pulled out a comfortable lead in the first few races but Ferrari was improving as the season went on but the last two races were Mika Hakkinen’s and he took the World Championship in 1998. The season did not come and go without any controversies, the main one was at Silverstone when Michael Schumacher won the race by entering the pitlane on the final lap to server his 10 second stop and go penalty. This caused great confusion on the track as Mika Hakkinen took the chequered flag but in theory Michael Schumacher went over the line first through the pit lane. The second incident took place in Spa, in once again treacherous conditions as so often was the case at that location. It all went up in flames for Michael Schumacher as he tried to lap David Coulthard, visibility was not great and as David Coulthard slowed down to let the leader pass, he did so on the racing line. Thus, Michael Schumacher crashed into the back of his car, leaving him with just three tyres to make it back to the pits. The Belgian Grand Prix of 1998 will go down in history as the most chaotic race in Formula 1 history.
From 2000 onwards, Michael Schumacher would start winning Championships with Ferrari, he won his third World Drivers’ Championship and once again it was a remarkable year for him. At the Italian Grand Prix he triumphed in front of the adoring crowd of the Tifosi and at the post-race press conference, he got the information that he equalled the number of wins, 41 in total, won by his idol Senna. During that interview he broke down in tears showing how much that meant to him and it also showed a very humane side of Schumacher to the media.
Despite Schumacher being crowned champion, journalist Andrew Benson stated that the ‘’challenge from Mika Hakkinen and McLaren-Mercedes was far stronger than the raw statistics suggest’’ and that Adrian Newey designed McLaren was ‘’the fastest car in F1 for the third year in a row’’. Benson also hailed Schumacher as ‘’unquestionably the greatest driver of his era’’. The results speak for themselves: winning against a vastly superior car takes a lot of talent and focus to do.
In the following years, the Ferrari domination continued, blitzing the field with win after win and, by 2004, Schumacher won his seventh world title in a season filled with broken records. He finished the season with a record 148 points, 34 points ahead of the runner-up Barrichello, and set a new record of 13 race wins out of a possible 18, surpassing his previous best of 11 wins from the 2002 season.
People within the team and in the paddock also noted that he also takes an interest in what the mechanics are doing, as well as their personal lives and wants to be involved. It’s not just being the quickest on the circuit but also having that human element towards your colleagues. That family scenario benefitted both the team and Michael Schumacher as he got the best out of each and every one to make an outstanding machine for him to compete with.
Many Formula 1 drivers that are on the grid and/or have been on the grid in recent years became a Formula 1 driver because of him; many deemed him to be the legend and the best racing driver of all time.
Retirement and the Return with Mercedes
A dominant couple of years for a team prompts regulation changes and that is exactly what happened in 2005. The change required tyres to last an entire race, tipping the overall advantage to teams using Michelins over teams such as Ferrari that relied in Bridgestone tyres. The most notable moment of the early season for Schumacher was his battle with Fernando Alonso in the Renault – Schumacher started 13th at the San Marino GP and only finished 0.2 seconds behind Alonso. The only win that the seven-time world champion registered that year was at the Indianapolis GP, which for most, is considered to be a void race. This reasoning comes as only six drivers took part in the race instead of the 20 that normally participated. The details of this incident can be discussed in a different blog, but in summation, it was down to tyre safety.
After the Italian GP in Monza, Michael Schumacher expressed his desire to retire at the end of the season. The last race was a great overall picture of the career that he had in Formula 1. The Brazilian GP of 2006 was one of the finest drives from Michael Schumacher. The objective was to win and Alonso to not score any points. Qualifying was disastrous as a fuel pump failure restricted his running in Q3, meaning he would start in 10th place. At the race start, he picked up some places but a tap on the Ferrari’s left rear by Fishicella’s front wing caused Schumacher to have a puncture, knocking him back down to 19th. He worked his way back to fourth place, overtaking Fishicella and Raikonnen but could not get anywhere close to Alonso.
He had some neck pain during his last season with Ferrari, and he kept a lid on it as it would have affected other people’s approach towards the Championship. The pain might have played a great factor in his decision to retire from the sport but not for long as he was offered a lucrative chance back by Mercedes.
When he was approached by Mercedes, it was too good to turn it down; when he returned to the grid, he still brought that sense of aggression but in a more controlled manner now, as he knew that he was not in a title-winning car. Despite not having a front-running car, he still produced moments of brilliance, especially in Monaco, taking his final pole position of his career.
Legacy and the lasting impact on the Sport
During his time in the sport, he didn’t just revolutionise the way that Formula 1 drivers should behave and the work ethic that they should have to become the best, but he also worked closely with the FIA to make the sport safer. This might have stemmed from the incident of Ayrton Senna in Imola, which would have deeply affected any driver. Additionally, the impact on the Mercedes team shows that there is potential in the car for them to push investments and ultimately become a series title-winning team.
Michael Schumacher will forever be remembered as one of the most consistent, brave and hard-working Formule 1 race driver. To be able to win a World Championship in a car that was not the best on the field requires an out-of-this-world talent and that is what Schumacher had.