For such an extraordinary driver, Michael Schumacher originated from a rather ordinary family life. He was born on 3 January, 1969, near Cologne, Germany. His father was a bricklayer, and ran the local kart track, at Kerpen, where Mr Schumacher’s wife operated the track canteen. At the age of four, Michael discovered his love for an old, worn out pedal kart – which his father fitted with a small motorcycle engine, only for the future superstar promptly crash into a lamppost.
Nonetheless, bitten by the bug Michael quickly mastered the small machine and won his first kart championship at the infantile age of six. Soon after, he grabbed the attention of wealthy enthusiasts who sponsored him in his bid to climb the next, early rung of the Motorsport ladder.
German and European kart championships were claimed by Michael by 1987. By this time, he had left school to work as an apprentice car mechanic. The position was short-lived, however, as soon after, Michael’s occupation turned to that of a full time racing driver.
1990 saw him win the German Formula 3 championship, leading to Michael being hired by Mercedes to drive sportscars as part of their junior drivers academy, alongside fellow future F1 stars Karl Wendlinger and Heinz Harald Frentzen – whom were both eclipsed by Schumacher’s young talent.
The following year, in the closing stages of the 1991 FIA Formula 1 season saw the arrival of yet another hotshot to add to the vast pool of prematurely-anticlimactic careers of youthful exuberance. Little did we know, that the arrival of such a star would mark the beginning of the single most dominant career in sporting history, bar none.
The 1991 Belgian GP saw a young Michael Schumacher live his childhood dream as he stepped into an F1 car for the first time. Despite secretly never before driving the Spa circuit, Schumacher quietly continued, only to complete qualifying in a stunning 7th position. This single lap alone was enough to grab the attention of Flavio Briatore and Benetton F1 Team – who didn’t hesitate to snap Schumacher up with immediate effect. For the final number of races in 1991, Schumacher would partner Benetton lead driver Nelson Piquet – a triple world champion, widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of his era. Despite this, the young Schumacher dwarfed his Brazilian teammate, making a mockery out of Piquet as he outqualified him at every race, down to the final Grand Prix of the year. The following season, in 1992, Schumacher remained at Benetton but this time was joined by Formula 3 star Martin Brundle, who had provided fierce competition for Ayrton Senna, and didn’t fail to do so for Michael either. Schumacher again showed his pace in qualifying as Brundle struggled to keep up every weekend. The season later provided Schumacher with his first victory, again at Spa – considered to be one of the most demanding circuits of all.
Schumacher finished the 1992 season in 3rd position – ahead of McLaren’s Ayrton Senna, who raced an almost identical car to Schumacher, and behind only the dominant Williams team.
Over the next four seasons with Benetton he won a further 18 races and 2 world drivers championships. His first title, in 1994, was somewhat overshadowed by the death of Ayrton Senna – who had moved to Williams that season. Senna’s death left the season’s fastest car without a star driver, and in doing so deprived fans of an epic Schumacher-Senna showdown in what would have been one of the most intense rivalries in F1 history.
Regardless, the 1994 title fight climaxed in Adelaide at the final Grand Prix, where Schumacher collided with his only remaining title challenger, the Williams of Damon Hill.
But Germany’s first world champion was unquestionably worthy of the 1995 driving title – a season in which Schumacher dominated from start to finish, and in doing so led Benetton to their first and only constructors championship.
At the end of 1995, it was revealed Schumacher would move to Ferrari, then a team in disarray and without a champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979. Schumacher’s decision was met with much criticism as pundits felt the red team were no longer capable of providing a car worthy of a driver of Schumacher’s level.
The partnership began promisingly with three wins in 1996 and five more in 1997, though the success of the two seasons were very much down to Schumacher’s excellence rather than that of his (uncompetitive) cars. Michael finished 1996 in 3rd, behind the Williams duo, and improved to finish a close 2nd in 1997, but felt the wrath of the FIA, ending in humiliation when in the final race, at Jerez in Spain, Schumacher tried unsuccessfully to ram the Williams of his title rival Jacques Villeneuve off the road. As punishment, his 2nd place was reversed to a total disqualification – leaving a black mark on his record.
Soon, though, Schumacher’s record would grow more promisingly as he began to rewrite the record book entirely.
After finishing a legitimate 2nd overall in 1998, Schumacher’s 1999 season was interrupted by a broken leg after a brake failure, and resultant crash, at the British Grand Prix. Schumacher returned to the track for the final two races of 1999 and finished on the podium for both. Michael’s performances and teammate Irvine’s title campaign in Schumacher’s absence proved if it wasn’t for the accident, 1999 could have proven to be Ferrari and Schumacher’s breakthrough season. Ferrari won the constructors title, and if it wasn’t for his broken leg, Michael would have quite probably won his third title.
From then on there was no stopping Michael – who in 2000 became Ferrari’s first champion in 21 years, then went on to win the driving title for the next four years in succession.
2002 was a year of biblical domination from Schumacher, where he won 11 times and finished on the podium in all 17 races. In 2003 he broke Fangio’s record by winning his sixth driving title, and 2004 saw him improve to take 13 of the 18 race wins on his way to clinching his seventh championship by an incomprehensible margin.
All of F1’s greatest drivers possessed traits that justified their positioning within the elite. Schumacher, however, possessed every single on of these characteristics; ambition, confidence, intelligence, motivation, dedication and determination. What set him apart from the greats around him and helped his unprecedented length domination and success was simple…
Michael Schumacher constantly pursued and demanded improvement.
Owing to unmatched natural talent, Schumacher had the ability to race with unrivalled pace and cerebral nature as he effortlessly made split second decisions whilst dialling in fastest laps. This, together with supreme fitness, quite literally made Michael Schumacher invincible.
Similarly, no Ferrari driver worked harder for the team, nor were any of them more appreciated than the German who led the Italian team to six successive Constructors’ Championships. He led by example, frequently visiting the factory at Maranello, talking to the personnel, thanking them, encouraging them, never criticising and inspiring everyone with his optimism, high energy level and huge work ethic. The team was devoted to the driver who often said he loved the Ferrari ‘family.’
Life with his own family – wife Corinna and their children Gina-Maria and Mick – was deliberately kept as normal as possible by the essentially shy and private man who became one of the most famous sportsmen in the world. Despite his fame, tabloids struggled to think up headlines, as practically nothing was known about Schumacher’s mystical private life. Rich beyond his wildest dreams, the world’s first billionaire sportsman generously supported charities, most notably of which was his incredible $10 million personal donation to victims of the Asian tsunami in 2004.
After finishing an eventual 2nd in the 2006 championship after being deprived of a hard fought, deserved eight title by an engine failure at the penultimate race of the season, in which he was leading, the aging superstar was still at the peak of his powers, having won 7 races to bring his total to 91 – dwarfing that of nearest rivals Alain Prost (41) and Ayrton Senna (31)
No champion had been so superior for so long, but Schumi had grown tired of the effort required to continue to excel and decided to hang up his helmet, deeming 2006 world champion Fernando Alonso a suitable successor.
Yet his retirement proved to be only temporary. In 2010, after a three-year hiatus as a consultant to Ferrari, 41-year-old Michael Schumacher succumbed to the lure of driving for the new Mercedes team headed by Ross Brawn, who had powered the team forward to win both world championships the previous year. Critics questioned his decision to join what proved to be a disappointingly uncompetitive outfit.He gave his best but made it to the podium only once during his three-year comeback. Hard work and constant grafting led to the climax of his comeback – 2012 – his final year in F1. During this season, Schumacher managed to do what he found painfully difficult the two years before – eclipse his younger German team mate in Nico Rosberg. Schumacher’s resurgence came to a head at Momaco – in which he claimed one of the most emotional pole positions in Formula 1 history, and went on to finish on the podium two weeks later in Valencia.
“I enjoyed most of it,” Michael Schumacher said of the second part of his career. “Can I enjoy it as much as winning? No.”
Michael Schumacher announced his final retirement at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, 2012. The announcement was almost expected, but the reality of his departure was powerful and meaningful enough to reduce grown men (both media, drivers and fans) to tears. Their hero was leaving.
Schumacher’s career ended the second time just as it did the first – a quietly phenomenal recovery drive after a puncture, at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Schumacher finished the race in 7th – a recurring number throughout his unmatched career of utter perfection and indescribable domination.
“At some point it’s good to say goodbye, and it might this time even be forever.”
Credit to Gerald Donaldson for respective extracts.