Born 38 years ago.
Profile for Michael Schumacher
Birth 3 January 1969
FirstRace 1991-08-25 Spa-Francorchamps
Last Race 2006-10-22 Interlagos
Races Run 250
Pole Position 68
Fastest Lap 76
Finish in points 190
with brother Ralf
Schumacher began racing karts at the age of four and a half in a home-made kart built by his father, Rolf Schumacher, who managed the local karting track located in Kerpen, Schumacher's home town. He obtained his first license, and began racing competitively, by the age of twelve. Between 1984 and 1987, Michael won numerous German and European kart championships, including the Formula Konig Series. In 1988, Schumacher raced in the Formula Ford series, and over the next two years competed in the German Formula 3 series, winning the title in 1990. In 1991, he continued his ascent up the racing ladder, joining the Mercedes junior racing programme in the World Endurance Championship, winning races in Mexico City and at Autopolis, at the wheel of a Sauber-Mercedes C291. He also briefly competed in the Japanese Formula 3000 Championship and the German Touring Car Championship in the early 1990s.
Schumacher made his Formula One debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix as a replacement driver for the imprisoned Bertrand Gachot (incarcerated for spraying CS gas at a London taxicab-driver's face). Eddie Jordan signed Michael to his Jordan team at the Belgian Grand Prix, after Michael assured Jordan that he had vast experience in the challenging Spa circuit, with its brutal Eau Rouge corner, despite the fact that he had only been around the track once - and that was on a borrowed bicycle! Michael astonished everyone by qualifying seventh, in his first competition in an F1 vehicle. He was quickly signed by Benetton-Ford for the next race, and immediately showed great potential.
Schumacher consolidated as a revelation driver in F1 as he claimed his maiden victory in the Belgian Grand Prix with Benetton Ford. in 1992 finishing third in the final standings.
1993 was a year of great expectation for Benetton and Schumacher. The German won one race but was not able to challenge for the World Title as the superiority of the Benneton machine was not fully exploited. The year was once again dominated by Williams and only Senna, in an inferior McLaren, was able to regularly challenge Alain Prost, who had at his disposal the strongest package in terms of engine, chassis and specially electronics. Nevertheless this was a crucial year for developing the Bennetton machine as electronic launch and traction controls were incorporated into an engine control unit (ECU).
Schumacher won his first World Championship in 1994 while driving for Benetton in an extremely controversial season marred by allegations of cheating and the deaths of Ayrton Senna & Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
He won six of the first seven events. The raw speed of the Benetton was a surprise to the other teams whom started allegations of cheating, claiming Benetton had found a way to violate the ban on electronic aids that had been imposed by the FIA, including Traction Control, Launch Control and specially the adaptive suspension.
After Senna's death while leading the race at Imola, Damon Hill inherited the responsibility of fighting for the World Championship. Hill struggled to keep on pace with the Benetton with an inferior Williams, but due to several disqualifications and bans for Schumacher, he began to close the gap in the standings. Leading by a single point going into the final race in Australia, Schumacher clinched the title after crashing into Hill, putting both drivers out. He won the title thanks to that single point lead.
For 1995, Schumacher stayed with Benetton, whom had switched to Renault engines. He successfully defended his crown that season, accumulating 30 more points than the second placed driver, who was once again Hill. With teammate Johnny Herbert, he also helped Benetton win its first (and only) Constructors' Championship. In 1994 and 1995, his two first championship seasons, Schumacher won 17 races, achieved 21 podiums, and notched ten pole positions. During this span of 31 grands prix, only once did he qualify worse than fourth position, at the 1995 Belgium Grand Prix, where he started 16th on the grid but still managed to win the race.
In 1996, Michael signed a contract with Ferrari, which at the time was a highly risky move, given Ferrari's championship drought (the Italian giants had not won a title since 1979). In his first year at the Scuderia, he wrung the neck out of a very poor car and managed to finish 3rd in the driver's championship, behind only the two Williams' drivers.
In 1997 he again took the title fight down to the last race, narrowly leading the points for the drivers' title. Schumacher uncompromisely crashed into Jacques Villeneuve's Williams Renault after this one attempted to overtake him when the German left the door opened while braking in one of the curves of the circuit of Jerez. Despite the Ferrari was litterally thrown into the side of the Williams, it was the red car that ended on the gravel. A badly damaged Williams was driven by the Canadian Villeneuve winning the world championship, but despite the final result the German star was disqualified from the World Championship and all his earned points were lost by means of his lack of sportmanship.
In 1998, there were tyre rule changes in Formula 1 and Bridgestone had the upper hand on Goodyear. Also, McLaren emerged as the class of the field. It was left for Schumacher to challenge the McLaren domination and the season went down to the last race Schumacher won six races that year, the most memorable one being in Hungary where he pitted three times and had to do a whole stint lapping the Hungaroring circuit at qualifying speed, more than a second faster than anyone else to make up ground on the McLarens. Despite the inferiority of Ferrari, Schumacher pushed hard all the way until the final race in Japan, where, after having set the pole position, he stalled on the grid and had to start last then gaining lost ground in an amazing way but after a tyre puncture, caused by running over on track debris, he retired granting the title to Mika Hakkinen. Schumacher was not only stopped by bad luck but by David Coulthard, the Hakkinen's team mate, who, whilst in the dispute of the heavy rain affected 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, uncompromisely remained on the racing line while having a punctured tyre then making Schumacher to collide into him in the high speed pouhon curve ending his race and stripping him from vital points.
After several rebuilding years, Schumacher helped Ferrari win the Constructors title in 1999. However, his hopes for another Drivers' Championship were dashed at that year's British Grand Prix, where he broke his leg, after what was said had been a brake failure, causing him to exit the track while facing a high speed corner crashing heavily into a tyre barrier then being unable to compete for the next six races.
After his return he even played second driver role to his team mate Eddie Irvine in order to favor his team's ambition of conquering a WDC, but once again they were beaten by Hakkinen in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
After years of frustration and after having reunited the best engineers, aerodynamicists and strategists, Ferrari finally gave Michael Schumacher the opportunity to take yet another World Championship title, and Ferrari's first since Jody Scheckter in 1979, after a thrilling year long battle with Mika Häkkinen. The fight was very tied and went down once again to the final race in Japan, this time, despite the early lead of Hakkinen who always had a better start at Suzuka, Schumacher finally beat the Finnish driver from McLaren Mercedes which caused celebrations from Tifosi around the globe.
While en route to his fourth drivers title, he broke Alain Prost's record for most grand prix wins. In a season which saw rival Mika Hakkinen performing at a lower level, he had no major threats, just some victories from David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen and specially the Williams duo of his brother Ralf and Montoya with whom had some in track moments.
In a dominant year, he easily took his fifth Drivers' title (equalling the record set by Juan Manuel Fangio) due to his driving talent and the sheer dominance of his Ferrari machinery, which won 15 out of the 17 races that season. Schumacher also broke Nigel Mansell's record of 9 race wins for most victories in a season, scoring 11 and finishing every race on the podium. Again just Williams's Ralf and McLaren Mercedes's Coulthard could take something from the all conquering Ferrari, Montoya remained someone to battle with, finishing third behind the two Ferraris and clinching 7 Pole positions with a special qualifying car, which sometimes was as fast as the Ferrari, slowing Schumacher's race for the other record he is close to reach, the 65-pole record from Ayrton Senna.
He broke Fangio's record by winning the Drivers' title for the sixth time in a closely contested season.
The biggest threats once again came from the McLaren Mercedes and BMW WilliamsF1team. His brother Ralf became a regular race contender and scored some victories and more so Juan Pablo Montoya, who was a fierce competition on track often taking the best of him, became a title contender in 2003 even stronger than Kimi Räikkönen as he had at his disposal the class of the field for some part of the world championship and scored a couple of victories, but Ferrari reacted from the Italian Grand Prix onwards and gained a slight car advantage allowing the German to win two more and decisive races. After Montoya was penalized in the US GP he was out of the title contention then it was just the Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen who was left, who, after brilliant and constant performances, in an inferior car, and after having benefited by an indulgent system of points, had mathematical changes until the final race although he had just a single victory to his credit, compared to Schumacher's six.
Schumacher started off the championship with typical domination, winning a record twelve of the first thirteen races of the season. He clinched the seventh drivers title of his unequalled F1 career where it all began for him — at the Belgian Grand Prix. Scuderia Ferrari, and in particular Bridgestone had been the key as the tyre was far away the superior to Michelin over the season. He would finish the season with a record 148 points.
The 2005 season was a struggle for Schumacher, as the Ferrari package was far from ideal specially their, in past years dominant and now inferior, Bridgestone tyres. Very soon in the year the German ace admitted he no longer had opportunities of fighting for the title. Despite this, Schumacher had some moments most notable his fight with Fernando Alonso in the San Marino GP and a pole in Hungary and ultimateley and most importantly he finished third in the World Championship standings, above Juan Pablo Montoya, with an inferior car. But his unsolit victory in the United States Grand Prix, which he almost certainly would not have won without the withdrawal of 14 cars due to Michelin's tyre problems, and the lessions, mechanical problems and other in-track issues for the Colombian are needed to be taken in consideration.
On September 25th, 2005, and after ruling Formula One as its champion for 1,813 consecutive days, Michael finally relinquished his crown to Fernando Alonso of Spain.
There were lots of on-track problems for the German including collisions with Takuma Sato and Mark Webber and of special note during the course of the weekend of the Chinese Grand Prix, which has proven a total disaster for him as he made all type of errors a driver can make. First he changed lines, while attemping to warm-up the tyres during the formation lap, causing the Minardi of Christijan Albers to smash heavly the rear and left sides of the Ferrari, thus having to start from the pit lane. During a neutralization lost control and spun off concluding in this way his, perhaps, worst season so far.
would become the last season of Schumacher's racing career. Although he did better than in 2005, it still was not enough and he lost the title to Fernando Alonso in the last race of the season. After three races, he had 11 points and was already 17 points behind Alonso. He won the two following races, which were his first wins in 18 months barring the boycott-marred 2005 United States Grand Prix. His pole position at San Marino was his 66th, breaking Ayrton Senna's 12 year old record. By the Canadian Grand Prix, the ninth race of the season he was 25 points behind Alonso, but the three wins that followed helped him reduce his disadvantage to 11. After two races where his advantage was increased by one point, the victories in Italy and China made him the leader of the championship for the only time during the season. Although he and Alonso had the same points, Schumacher was in front because he had won more races. A series of misfortunes and problems would come and make him lose the title.
The Japanese Grand Prix saw Schumacher retiring after his first engine failure in five years with only 16 laps to go while leading the track. Alonso, who was behind him, would go on to win the race and almost the Championship, by getting a 10 point advantage before the last race of the season. The only way Schumacher could win the championship was if he won the race and if Alonso did not manage to score a single point. Schumacher himself conceded the title to Alonso after the race.
In the last race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, Schumacher finished fourth. Before the race he was awarded a trophy by football legend Pelé for his years of dedication to F1. During the qualifying session, he managed to get the best time of all drivers in the first two sessions, but a fuel pressure problem prevented him from completing a single lap during the third part, forcing him to start tenth. Schumacher managed to push forward early to 6th. However, after overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella, teammate of Fernando Alonso, on lap 9, Schumacher experienced a puncture caused by the front wing of Fisichella's car. Schumacher pitted and consequently fell to the 19th position and 70 seconds off team mate and race leader Felipe Massa. He managed to regain positions and challenge Fisichella and Räikkönen subsequently overtaking them to secure 4th place and setting fastest lap after fastest lap on the way. His performance at the last race of his career was classified in the press as an "heroic display", a "utterly breath-taking drive" and a "performance that sums up his career".
Since the 1994 death of Ayrton Senna, Schumacher has been widely regarded as the fastest driver in F1 and the most dominant driver of his era. However, his career has at times been controversial, with some commentators questioning his poor sportsmanship and driving tactics and the apparent standing team orders which would require his team mates to play a subservient role.
There's also some speculation FIA has taken more decisions favoring Ferrari/Michael Schumacher than otherwise. The 1994's incident with Damon Hill is a good example. Of course this holds little or no water at all, since there have been several FIA changes of rules over the past few years, mainly targeting Schumacher's and Ferrari's domination. In 2003, the FIA introduced the one-engine-per-weekend rule, which severely affected Ferrari, because they had already completed the design of their car using a larger than ever wheelbase and they also had to do away with their engine/gearbox compact project. In 2005, the FIA introduced the one-set-of-tyres-per-race rule, which played right into the hands of the numerous Michelin teams, and was the main cause of Ferrari's fall from grace.
For those who question his driving style the two most often quoted incidents are the previously mentioned 1994 Australian Grand Prix crash with Damon Hill and the 1997 European Grand Prix crash with Jacques Villeneuve. It is widely regarded that he deliberately crashed with Villeneuve during the 1997 European Grand Prix. However it should be noted that Michael drove in the same manner as the man he succeeded. Ayrton Senna was guilty of similar incidents in final races with his nemesis Alain Prost.
In the 1994 Australian Grand Prix Schumacher was leading Damon Hill, but just barely; if Hill had won the race, he would have won that year's World Championship. During the race Schumacher made an error and ran wide, which led to an overtaking maneuver by Hill into the subsequent corner. Schumacher turned into the corner and collided with Hill, in the process crashing into the barriers and breaking Hill's front left suspension. Both cars were removed from the race, which was eventually won by Nigel Mansell, who was too far behind in the points to challenge Schumacher's title lead. In this case it was judged a racing incident and Schumacher took his first title. Although this accident was the deciding event of the 1994 championship, Schumacher at that point had the right to close the door and stick to his racing line; as many F1 pundits noted, Hill should have been aware of Schumacher's injured car and should have waited for a better opportunity to pass. It is important to note that without Schumacher receiving 2 race bans and 2 race disqualifications, the race title would have never been closely matched.
Although it could always be argued (these sporting situations are always subjective...) that Michael ran wide, as did Hill interfering with Schumacher's recovering line and the collision was deemed a 'racing incident'. It is also worth clarifying that the FIA conducted a full investigation into the 'Hill' incident before announcing an outcome.
During the 1997 European Grand Prix Schumacher was leading the race and was followed by Villeneuve. In a similar situation to 1994 a win for either driver would guarantee him the World Championship. Villeneuve attempted to overtake Schumacher, who then collided with the Canadian in what the FIA finally judged to be dangerous driving. Although Schumacher's car was knocked out of the race, Villeneuve went on to finish third, behind Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard, who were too far behind in the points to challenge Villeneuve for the Championship. Schumacher was stripped of his second place in the World Championship final standings (with Heinz-Harald Frentzen moving from third to second), while retaining his results and points for the season, in a bizarre and unprecedented decision that was widely criticized as representing no real punishment at all.
Schumacher in the Paddock at the USGP in 2002During Schumacher's reign of consecutive World Championships many fans were put off by his dominance of F1 and there was particular attention paid to how Schumacher and his Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello were swapping finishes to engineer specific changes in the World Championship.
A good example of this was the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix where Ferrari ordered Barrichello, who was leading the race, to move over for Schumacher to take the win. This led to a poor reception on the podium where an embarrassed Schumacher ushered Barrichello onto the top step. The result was a ban on team orders and a $1 million fine for Ferrari ($500,000 to be paid immediately, with the remainder remitted subject to "good behaviour" during the next 12 months). Nevertheless, team orders are at times practiced by many teams and can be executed discreetly, despite team orders were officially banned by the FIA , but have been openly used, even during 2005 Formula One Season by Renault and McLaren. But Schumacher has also played the game in benefit of his team-mates when necessary. An example of this is the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix where Schumacher gifted victory to then teammate Eddie Irvine to give him a chance of winning the world championship.
It has also been argued that unlike some of the great drivers of the past, Schumacher has not had much of a challenge from within the team. During much of his time at Benetton he was consistently dominant over his team mates, and since moving to Ferrari, his team has guaranteed he is given a clear Number 1 status. Furthermore, his dominance over his team-mates spans across his 14-years career, including Brundle, Irvine, Barrichello, Verstappen, JJ Lehto and Herbert. This dominance was much more evident in qualifying, where team-orders do not apply. In the early years of his career, when cars were more difficult to handle because of the lack of the sophisticated electronics and TC systems, Schumacher was often 1,5 seconds on average faster than his team-mates, over an entire season, sometimes more.
In more recent years, however, his success with Ferrari, moderation of his on-track tactics, and a more relaxed public persona have rehabilitated Schumacher's image for most fans, although the collisions with Hill and Villeneuve have not been forgotten by many Formula one fans, who usually are quick to point out poor sportsmanship.
As of the end of the 2006 Formula One Season, Michael Schumacher holds the following F1 records:
Championship titles 7
Consecutive titles 5
Race victories 91
Consecutive wins 7 (2004, Europe - Hungary)
Wins with one team 72 (Ferrari)
Wins at same GP 8 (France)
Wins at different GPs 20
Most Time between first and last wins 14 years, 1 month and 2 days
Second places 43
Podiums (Top 3) 154
Consecutive podium finishes 19 (US 2001 - Japan 2002)
Points finishes 190
Laps leading 4741 (22,155 km)
Pole positions 68
Front row starts 115
Fastest laps 76
Doubles (Pole and win) 40
Hat trick (Pole, fastest lap and win) 22
Championship points 1,369
Consecutive race finishes 24 (Hungary 2001 - Malaysia 2003)
Points in a season for vice-champion 121 (From 180)
Wins in a season for vice-champion* 7
Races for same car and engine builder 180 (Ferrari)
Wins at Indy (Any racing class) 5
Wins at Monza (Any racing class) 5
Wins in a season 13 (2004)
Fastest laps in a season* 10 (2004)
Points scored in a season 148 (2004)
Podium finishes in a season 17 (2002)
Championship won with most races left 6 (2002)
Consecutive years with a win 15
In the refuelling era of Grand Prix racing, from the mid-nineties onwards upto today, there's been one man who's consistently beaten allcomers to accumulate previously unseen levels of glory - and income! His name is Michael Schumacher, and his style and character have proved to be a perfect match for the pitstop-to-pitstop sprints that add up to a Grand Prix distance these days.
There are many factors contributing to Michael Schumacher being the best World Championship Grand Prix driver ever - on paper, at least. Apart from Fangio's 2:1 starts-to-wins ratio and Ayrton Senna's pole tally Schumacher's beaten almost every conceivable World Championship record - and Senna's only remaining record looks to be beaten too before the German puts an end to his career.
Part of the reason for his impressive statistics is due to the durability of his career, as Schumacher is now closing in on his 200th Grand Prix start, and the fact that lately F1 racing has turned into a reliability contest, making his Ferrari a bullet-proof proposition for wins - or podiums at the least - every time he takes the start of a Grand Prix. Another part is his carefully planned career path, which got him into a winning position in the first place. The most controversial contributing part is his reputation for being ruthless, for some to a degree of being unsportsmanlike. But it's not all down to circumstance. His driving style and set-up needs are so far out compared to those of his rivals that they go very far in explaining his continuing superiority. We look at all the factors that make up the man who has won more Grands Prix, has taken more fastest laps, and won more titles than anyone else in the history of World Championship F1 racing.
His career path
The F1 world was in shock when Michael Schumacher put his Jordan 191 7th on the grid of the 1991 Belgian GP. Where did this guy come from? Yes, he'd been a German F3 champion some years before, but only after having been beaten by the men that in his championship year would become his team mates in the Mercedes-Benz sportscar outfit - Karl Wendlinger and Heinz-Harald Frentzen - and nicking the latter's girlfriend in the process. But somehow, being a Mercedes Junior driver lost in the old men's category of sportscar racing and not even racing in F3000 in an age it was unusual to skip a step on the ladder to F1, his bursting-on-the-scene at Spa still came as a surprise to many. In reality, the support of Mercedes-Benz and Willi Weber throughout his formative years should have meant that everyone could have seen it coming.
A former karting star, Schumacher started his car-racing career in 1988, racing in Formula Ford 1600 and Formula König. Not yet singled out as an exceptional talent, he was signed by the OTS German F3 team in a support role to title challenger Heinz-Harald Frentzen. In one of the closest German F3 seasons ever, Schumacher ended up equal on points with his more highly touted team mate while both came one point short of champion Wendlinger's tally. The three were then snapped up by Jochen Neerpasch, the Mercedes sporting director who devised his Junior scheme for this unparalleled flurry of Germanic motor-racing talent. For 1990 the trio was paired to veteran Jochen Mass, who tought them the ropes of handling big, powerful and highly technical racing machines in a car-friendly manner, as the Group C machines were getting close to their zenith of innovation. In the three races Schumacher teamed up with Mass he finished second each time, although in the race last at Mexico City their runner-up position was promoted to a race win after the sister car of Schlesser and Baldi was disqualified.
In parallel, Michael teamed up with Willi Weber's WTS team for a repeat assault on the German F3 championship. This time he took the title comfortably. He also ventured to the East to take in the two unofficial F3 "World Championship" races at Fuji and Macau in November - he won both, the race in the Portuguese colony after a fierce battle with later rival Mika Häkkinen. In hindsight, 1990 would prove to be a crucial year in his short pre-F1 career: first he confirmed the faith Mercedes-Benz put in him, and he also struck up a decisive relationship with his team manager Weber, who turned out to be a genius deal broker.
Schumacher and Wendlinger teamed up in the second Mercedes sportscar in 1991, choosing to stick with three-pointed star, while Frentzen made the fateful decision to do F3000 with Eddie Jordan. While the Mönchengladbach-born racer got stuck in the category for three years, being upstaged by Eddie Irvine in the process, his Kerpen-born countryman honed his skills in the ultraprofessional Mercedes environment, his and Wendlinger's efforts culminating in a victory at Autopolis. In the summer Neerpasch and Weber arranged a one-off appearance in the Japanese F3000 championship, away from all the media attention. Racing at Sugo he finished a confident second, showing he was ready for F1.
Then came Bertrand Gachot's contretemps with a London cabbie. Suddenly Eddie Jordan was without a driver. Willi Weber put forward a young man hailing from nearby Kerpen who "of course" could rely on ample experience of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit - sure enough, on a bike! And so Jordan didn't opt for people such as F3000 driver Frentzen, who had seriously disappointed in his 1990 season for EJR. Young Schumacher got the drive instead.
Although he as well as Ferrari have a massive fan base, Michael Schumacher is hardly the enthusiast or the professional's favourite. There are some obvious reasons, of course. Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997 are the culminating events of a ruthless, win-at-any-cost mentality that doesn't sit well with many, also because his faits accomplis almost single-handedly sparked off the "one-move" rule which other drivers are now unhesitant to use in the same fashion. He's admitted to his Jerez gaffe, citing it as a pressure-cooker mistake. And while that's undoubtedly true - crumbling under pressure is his only flaw, remember stalling on the grid in Japan in 1998 - his bow-crossing startline moves are all about ruthlessness, much in the same way Senna used to exercise his right to the line or bully his way past backmarkers. Psychologically it's all too easy to state that Senna was an inspiration and opened the floodgates of dangerous driving - Schumacher is too strong a character to have someone else, even one with Senna's stature, to have such an influence on him. It's more likely that their competitive spirits are simply from the same mould - people as good as them and as convinced about their talent as them will all have the same character trait.
So the truth about Adelaide 1994 is probably somewhere in the middle. On the one hand the pressure-cooker situation sparked his initial mistake while the realization of risking to lose it all set off the stern line of defense. He could feel justified by keeping his line while still being in the lead but the other unwritten law of motor racing - allowing your opponent some working space - crucially didn't enter his mind on the supreme moment. His panic reaction is the win-at-all-cost reaction instead of the win-but-only-in-a-sporting-way reaction. In the olden days this would have spelled danger in capital letters, as death would be waiting around the corner. It's likely that in the fifties, where Dr. Farina was the only driver that would occasionally pull off similar stunts, Schumacher would never have grown to accumulate the statistics that the relatively safe cars of today have allowed him to, notwithstanding his leg-breaking Silverstone 1999 accident - which was preceded by another win-at-all-cost move anyway...
This is the dark side of his character that in recent years seemed to have mellowed. Michael certainly likes his role as the sport's ambassador - he's relaxed in his contacts with the press, he's become more accessible to fans and he became the natural front man for the Grand Prix Drivers Association. It's even led to some former critics toning down their previous judgements, as they found him to be a pleasant man to be around, capable of engaging in conversation on all sorts of topics. His team members are all raving about his team-playing qualities, as the attention he pays to keeping his engineers and mechanics happy are without equal. But when he feels a challenge to his on-track authority he is quick to allow the Schumacher panic reaction to reassert itself, as Fernando Alonso found out in the opening lap of the 2003 British GP. Ruthlessness will almost certainly remain a key part of Schumacher's driver make-up until he retires.
There is another side to Michael's ruthlessness, though - it's his stamina. In the period of his rule, now spanning over a decade, he's had several worthy opponents: Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Häkkinen, while lately the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, his brother Ralf, Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso were snapping at his heels. But where Schumacher never let off, his rivals quit, either mentally exhausted or trying to recharge themselves by making a career change that would prove hurtful to their title challenge. Even today, Michael is as pumped up as any young charger, seriously happy with every new victory, not showing the slightest intention to let his effort slack, even though he must have seen it all by now. But apparently he hasn't - and at the age of 35 he is still outdoing his younger competitors in sheer motivation, followed by the same outburst of pleasure that he showed after his first win at Spa in 1992 and that so many found so refreshing after countless blasé victory ceremonies that featured the stars of the eighties. You can't help being in awe at the man thriving on the same psyched-up attitude for some 15 years.
Still, that's all very easy being in the best car, developed and run by the best team, isn't it? Yes, that's true - but he built it in the first place. In 1996, Schumacher did the "recharging" move himself. As with Jacques Villeneuve's move to BAR, it was seen as a sell-out at first, big money being seen at the root of the deal. Remember that Ferrari had won but two Grands Prix in the five previous seasons, while the new 1996 car was soon established to be a dog of a car. And yet, Schumacher took it to three wins while he became a title challenger in the following season. That's much quicker than any "four-year plan to become World Champion" or any other PR-inspired intention. Michael Schumacher not only did the talk, he plainly did the walk as well, in the process walking the opposition in his supreme seasons of 2001 and 2002.
There are many who say that Michael Schumacher has been incredibly lucky. And there is no doubt that he has. His first F1 car was probably the easiest and nimblest car in the field, a car that allowed Andrea De Cesaris to regain his credibility and lead Grands Prix. The Swap with Moreno paired him with Nelson Piquet, a veteran who had lost his ultimate speed but was relying on his cunning to still do the business. His next team mate Martin Brundle could reasonably keep up but was unlucky, allowing Schumacher to shine, especially in a season dominated by another constructor. Patrese was another veteran who helped to carve out a niche for the German. And then just as they were heading towards to head-to-head contest, Senna was taken away from us.
From that very moment his luck came in various guises - his mistakes frequently go unpunished, as do his mechanical failures and, as is often claimed, his foul play. If Schumacher is forced into an off-track excursion he usually finds a way back and doesn't even lose a lot of time. If his car fails, it's usually in practice. And if he pulls a stunt, it's usually "perfectly legal", or so the FIA claims. Lately, even race-day weather seems to play into the hands of the champion. On other occasions, he has been known to create his own luck, like through heading into the pits to collect his stop-and-go penalty after crossing the finish line, presenting the stewards with a fait accompli for which there was no rule to consider. There's been a lot of self-created luck in Schumacher's career, but mostly it's been of another kind. We all remember the race in which his gearbox got stuck in 5th many laps before the end, which didn't stop him from finishing second. On a bad day in recent seasons, he would still finish on the podium.
A part of his luck will always be contributed to supposed Ferrari favouritism with the powers-that-be. And while there are many fine arguments against the rulings post-Jerez '97 or, for example, post-Malaysia '99, you can't help but notice a certain amount of extrapolation going on when judging Schumacher and Ferrari's deeds, usually going along the lines of "He's been the villain in that case, so he must be the bad guy in this one too". For instance, when his anger at David Coulthard at Spa in 1998 was condemned it was all too easy to blame him for the accident in the first place as well. But if someone else had been driving the car in the lead, the blame would have been put squarely at DC's feet for going off the throttle on the racing line, as a backmarker, in zero visibility, not having let the leader past in three more obvious locations on the track before. It could even be argued that Schumacher's outburst had been understandable in the situation, even though it lacked professionalism.
The case of Spa '98 did further to enhance Schumacher's reputation as a holier-than-thou driver, which has played a large part in his not often being mentioned in the same breath as Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss or Clark. Yet he has been the yardstick of F1 racing for over a decade now. If there's a driver wanting to gauge his talent today, he'll want to compare his to Schumacher's. Starting from World War II, there's only a dozen drivers in that particular category: Wimille, Fangio, Ascari, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Peterson, Lauda, Villeneuve, Prost, Senna and Schumacher. And Schumacher's reign has been longer than any of the others.
His winning style
In 1994, the season in which Schumacher seemed to romp to a virtually unchallenged first title, his team-mate was a young Jos Verstappen. Though very inexperienced, here was a man who had just waltzed the German F3 championship, had set some blistering test times for Footwork, and had to fight off McLaren's interest before signing as a test driver for Benetton. His meteoric rise to F1 is only comparable to that of Jarno Trulli and Kimi Räikkönen, his wet-weather performances have always been awesome - so he would be a man to understand all about cars. And yet, when quizzed in 1994 about his lack of qualifying speed and race pace compared to Schumacher, he is quoted as saying that he found Michael's set-up undriveable.
So with both men being experienced kart drivers, what sets them apart? How come that while today's F1 cars are often described as "high-grip shifter karts" one driver has very different set-up needs from the other? The explanation lies in the "high-grip" part rather than the "shifter kart" part. Whereas Jos Verstappen and many other drivers use the traditional rear-wheel drive cornering technique, Michael Schumacher and a few others too - his brother Ralf, Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld among them - use the huge grip of an F1 tyre to do something that amounts to the complete opposite. It's a technique that's even further to their advantage because of traction control and paddle gear shifting.
The traditional rear-wheel drive cornering style involves braking in a straight line towards the corner, turn in to the apex and then steer the car through the corner on the throttle, picking up speed all the time. It's Jochen Rindt spectacle pur sang, and it requires big balls on exit. Now factor in the traction control curbing the power of a 900bhp engine. Where's the rear-wheel powerslide? It's gone. You may have to need double the amount of power to beat the TC system to get the car into a serious and advantageous power drift. Instead you need the TC to allow you to pick up any pace you might have lost into the corner. That is, if you did lose any pace. Remember Jos Verstappen's comments about Schumacher's Benetton - he described the B194 as ultimately twitchy at the rear, its wings and tyres all working towards huge front-end grip and a comparatively loose rear end. It caused Verstappen - used to more power than grip - to lose lots of time on the entry, as he applied the traditional braking routine, and on exit too, as he grappled with the lack of rear-end grip which forbade him to steer his car on the throttle.
Looking back, Verstappen's comments make clear that Schumacher already perfected his style in 1994. He's capitalized on it ever since. So what does it entail? Where does he win those vital tenths? It's all about maximum speed into the corner, really. Instead of braking in a straight line Schumacher will turn a tighter line into the corner, carrying his straight-line speed up to the apex while braking later then usual. Now, if he would continue from there using the traditional exiting technique, he would run out of corner very quickly, as his speed would simply be too high to get around the corner. Which is where the most important ingredient of the Schumacher cornering style comes in - it's using the brakes and the front-end grip to have the car's rear end slide to the outside, making it shift into the correct exiting direction. Having paddle shifts and two-pedal foot control will allow him to keep the foot on the throttle to keep the speed alive while braking gently enough to force the rear end's change of direction.
What if it goes wrong? What if the braking is done a touch too gently? Others would simply run wide - the most common mistake in modern F1 racing. Not in the case of Michael Schumacher, as he uses two tricks that would hurt any other driver's speed - either locking up a tyre or standing on the throttle, or both if necessary. The lock-up is not just about taking out the excess speed, that's just a pleasant side-effect, it's also about what happens next: it's the sudden release of the brakes following the lock-up that forces another means of rear-end direction change - lift-off oversteer. Usually a very dangerous phenomenon for the unexperienced road-car driver, it becomes a vital part of Schumacher's damage-limitation process. A stab of throttle goes into helping the direction change go full-circle. Doesn't the TC cut in then? Yes, but it's set with a slight delay, giving him some slack to create some more rear-end movement. It's the last remaining part of the traditional technique that's left in Schumacher's paradigm of cornering instruments. So yes, F1 cars are rear-wheel drive, but in the hands of the best there's is not much of their typical character left.
Flawed genius? Don't think so!
forgotten author (sorry
As investments go, whoever put up the couple of million dollars necessary to fund Michael Schumacher's career in karts, Formula 3 and sports cars is presumably pretty happy with the return on investment. Assuming that Michael's career earnings fall somewhere around $400 Million, an ROI of two hundred times initial outlay is pretty good. I assume Willi Weber smiles a lot when he wakes up each morning.That's about as far as I plan to go in terms of evaluating the investment that represented Michael Schumacher's career. My column is supposed to be about the commercial side of Formula One but, tempting though it is to write volumes on the vital sponsorship coups delivered by McLaren and Williams in recent weeks, I am going to park that topic for the moment. Mainly because I am a bit irritated.It's all got to do with this 'flawed genius' moniker that some media, notably in the UK, have developed in order to summarise Michael Schumacher's career. I noted that in newspapers such as The Observer and The Independent, and on BBC news, this theme was developed even to the extent that none other than David Coulthard was reported on ITV-F1.com as saying, in an F1 Racing magazine interview, that Schumacher should apologise to the public for some of the things he's done. Apologise. At the end of the most successful ever F1 career. With all due respect to DC, what total and utter nonsense. I know he's also said Schumi is perhaps the most complete driver ever. So why not leave it at that? Even Motor Sport magazine quietly stuck the boot in by carefully describing Michael as being 'statistically' the best driver in Formula One history. As though all Michael Schumacher had achieved was to notch up a few mathematical figures whilst driving a car round in circles every other Sunday.It's as though close observers of the sport in the UK, lulled into a stupor by Michael's domination of Formula One, have chosen to concentrate on those few occasions on which he has been a Very Naughty Man. Or should that be very Naughty Ger-Man…? Surely not… It makes for interesting copy and enables everyone to take a few pot shots at the Very Naughty Man while he is busy making every other driver in F1 look like he'd have trouble driving a golf buggy.It's also a useful device for protecting other driver's reputations, the suggestion being that they've been losing during their careers only because they wouldn't stoop so low as to do the things that Michael has done. God forbid that some journeyman might have a fellow competitor off the track, make his team mate look stupid, have the team orders in his favour, block a track during qualifying or go out and win 91 Grands Prix. Watching the Monte Carlo incident live on TV, it was rather amusing to hear about various former World Champions and members of the media frothing at the mouth at the temerity of Michael to become a very, very Naughty Boy. However, odd as it may seem, I don't suppose Michael Schumacher ever went racing in order to keep Keke Rosberg happy, put a smile on Jackie Stewart's face or having anyone compliment him on being a very, very nice man.The 'not back in my day' brigade of F1 observer, and my word there are a lot of duffers about who only get truly excited when they visit Goodwood, seem to forget that these days Formula One teams require budgets of 18 Billion. And that's just for testing. Or to build a motorhome. Or that they employ 43,000 staff. Or whatever. And that this very, very great deal of money does not grow on trees but is in fact paid for by assorted car manufacturers, fuel companies and sponsors, all of which are answerable to their shareholders, who actually want their driver to win. At any cost. Because Formula One does cost an awful lot indeed.I'm not sure if Michael Schumacher was ever given a Job Description by Jean Todt on his first day of work at Ferrari. But I suspect it consisted of two words. One would be 'win' and the other 'to'. And if Michael had said 'but what if…' I suspect Jean would have interrupted and said 'don't worry about anything, just…win'.Michael Schumacher was not only a supremely talented driver, he was a leader of men, a motivator, a communicator, a strategist and the fittest driver around. He didn't sweat. If he brings out Michael Schumacher Deodorant - for the man who never wants to sweat at all, ever' I'm having some. Because I'm worth it. Anyone who can drive for two hours, win the race, make everyone look silly, slip off his helmet and look like he's just got ready for a Friday night out on the pull, is unique. He may not actually be human.
Yes, he did things that were very naughty. So did Ayrton Senna. And Alain Prost. And any young kart racer worth his salt at any kart race in any country a week ago last Sunday. The duffers will say 'but never as bad as Michael' but surely, when you are operating at the edge of the performance envelope in the way Michael was, isn't it conceivable - and perhaps forgivable - that he's going to stray into territory unacceptable to others? Whether it's a conscious decision or not? Frankly, if career apologies are owed from drivers, it is from those who have never lived up to their billing, never won a World Championship when they had a quick car, who allowed themselves to be out-psyched, out-raced and out-witted by Michael at pretty well every turn, and whose salaries are paid in spite of, not because of, their achievements.
Michael Schumacher flawed? In their dreams.Let me finish by telling you two stories.The first took place at Silverstone South Circuit in August 1991. I was providing PR services to Jordan Grand Prix, paid for by their sponsor FujiFilm, and we'd just been through a week during which one of our drivers, Bertrand Gachot, had been incarcerated in Brixton Prison after receiving a two year jail sentence for assault.We were at the South Circuit to witness a sports car driver named Michael Schumacher have his first ever Formula One test in the Jordan-Ford 191, arguably the most beautiful F1 car of the 1990s. Eddie Jordan, facing a mountain of debt, had naturally sought to replace Bert by finding a driver with a major talent. For bringing cash. And so stepped in Peter Sauber, Mercedes and Michael Schumacher's impressive ability to provide Jordan with a hundred and fifty grand.
Michael went out onto the track and on his first flying lap missed the apex to the silly little chicane that was a feature of the South Circuit just beyond the gap in the fence that acted as the 'paddock exit'. On the limit, he caught the massive tank-slapper that ensued, kept his foot in and was gone, up through the gears, the Cosworth HB V8 being given a thorough thrashing. It will appear conceited if I say that we knew we had seen something very special that day, but I promise you we did. Later I interviewed Michael so that I could produce a revised press kit in time for his debut at the Belgian Grand Prix. He was direct, slightly uneasy, but professional. He told me about his karting, his father, his kid brother now in karts who, he said, was 'perhaps even faster than me'. If only, Toyota, if only. As Jordan's team manager Trevor Foster would say to me some time after, the difference between Michael and the rest of the field was that he would arrive at the track on a Sunday morning knowing he would win. The rest just hoped. That explained the puzzled expression that haunted Michael's face on the odd occasion he didn't manage it.
Fast forward 9 years.It's Friday morning, Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. I have just finished breakfast and go back to my room to collect my things prior to heading off to the track. I'm in Jordan team gear.As the doors of the elevator part I realised that Michael Schumacher is standing there alone. It's been a long time since we worked together for that one race weekend in Belgium, when he qualified seventh for Jordan and was immediately snapped up by Benetton.It's one of those slightly odd moments. I know him, I mean everyone knows him by now, and yet I have to believe he won't know who I am. He can't possibly remember me even though we have both worked in F1 all this time. Teams live in parallel existences, seldom meeting.I think about ignoring him, then realise that is silly and say 'good morning'. He says 'morning' and the door closes. We are alone. The lift starts up. I expect him to say nothing more. He's busy, preparing for the first race of the new season and undoubtedly in a hurry. He doesn't need chit chat and inane comments.He say's "So how's Eddie? The usual, I reply, surprised. You know what he's like.He laughs.;How's the leg? I venture. It's been reported that his leg, broken in the previous year's British Grand Prix, continues to give him some problems.Oh it's fine, he replies. No problem at all now. I'm looking forward to getting on with the racing this weekend after testing and all the promotional work. I just want to race.
It's maybe an unnecessary statement for Michael Schumacher to make. But he says it. I just want to race. The lift reaches his floor. He steps out. I prepare to say goodbye, but he puts his foot against the door and continues to chat. For a couple of minutes. He is relaxed, genuinely interested in how things are going at Jordan, and completely refreshing. Well, good luck this season, hope it goes well, he says. when we finish. The doors close and I continue to my room.
It's been a fleeting encounter, a minor moment in the frenetic world of Formula One, but one that leaves a lasting impression. In a sport where people routinely ignore anyone who is not of immediate value in the career, where drivers would rather glance at their giant watches or dart off to the privacy of the motorhomes and avoid all but the most necessary conversations, it feels almost bizarre to have had Michael Schumacher, flawed genius, stop for a chat. There was a lot more too him than we were ever allowed to see.
The blues isn't about making yourself feel better, it's about making other people feel worse.