Teams Ralf Schumacher
329Ralf Schumacher: Worthy of Coming Out of the ShadowsBy Jeremy McMullen
Mention the name 'Schumacher' and one nearly forgets there were two racing at the same time. So dominant was the one that the other seemed destined to remain in the shadows. However, on his day, Ralf Schumacher could do more than hold his own against his sibling rival. There would be times that Michael would have to say his brother was better.
By the time Ralf was making a name for himself around his native Germany karting, his brother Michael was already a double World Champion. Already there were questions as to whether or not the younger brother was as faster, or faster; could he show up his brother, or, would prove a bust? Pressure on drivers mounts as they ascend the racing ladder. Ralf would have enormous pressure before he even had to prove himself. This meant Ralf had to prove himself many times over at every stage.
Born in Hurth in 1975, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of what was then West Germany, there would be very little indication of the name Ralf would have to make for himself just twenty years on. However, as he started to take part in kart racing, something his brother Michael had done, the comparisons and the yardsticks were to be inevitable.
And, despite not having that hyper-focus for which his brother would become famous, Ralf would give every indication that he was just as capable. After finishing runner-up in the national karting series, Ralf would move up to the German Formula Three championship in 1994.
At just twenty years of age, Ralf would go on to finish 3rd in his inaugural season in Formula Three. He would finish behind other drivers Jorg Muller and Alex Wurz and would begin really attracting attention. If he could have an even more successful season the following year then it was figured he was cut from the same mold and not a driver to be overlooked.
Schumacher would have some within Formula One raising their eyebrows as he would go on to finish runner-up in Formula Three in 1995. In addition, Ralf would go on to win the Macau Grand Prix, a race his brother had also won. They were brothers. That was obvious. But there were indications they were even more alike than that and that made many mouths water.
Michael had been a part of the Mercedes development program during the late 1980s. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, he would be given the chance to drive for Eddie Jordan at Spa. It would be such an impressive debut that Benetton would sign the driver to a Formula One contract. Mercedes had lost a star for the future. Mercedes supplied the engines that powered the McLaren Formula One team. And, following the runner-up performance by the younger brother in Formula Three, it was determined that this was one Schumacher that was not to be allowed to get away. Therefore, Ralf would earn a test drive with McLaren in late 1996. At that point in time, the German was en route to the championship in the Japanese Formula 3000 series. Ralf would come and take part in the test and would thorough confuse those within the McLaren team.
Ralf had come to the test and had done everything that was asked of him, and that was the problem. He did nothing that would give the impression that he had the hunger and the drive to be a double World Champion like his brother. He was quick, but not as quick as everyone longed and expected. Those within McLaren would be left wondering if they had unrealistic expectations. By the time they had come to a decision Ralf would be signed by Jordan. He was going to come into Formula One through the very same door as his brother. The similarities would continue.
Eddie Jordan had one Schumacher taken right out from underneath him. Determining the younger brother to be his second chance, Jordan would jump at the chance to hire the young driver. Unlike his older brother, Ralf would have a contract for more than one race. Eddie would be sold on Ralf without him having even really setting foot inside one of his cars.
Ralf had graduated from carts in 1992 at the age of just 17. Only five years on and he would find himself in Formula One with a competitive team. Signing with the Jordan team, Ralf would be behind the wheel of the 197.
Powered by a Peugeot V10, the 197 gave Jordan a chance of seriously challenging the four major teams of that time. Designed by Gary Anderson, the car would be quick, but would be somewhat unreliable. This would be demonstrated by Schumacher's six retirements out of the first seven races of the season.
Despite his early struggles, Schumacher would demonstrate raw pace. And, at the Argentine Grand Prix, just the third race of his Formula One career, Ralf would overcome a battle with his teammate to finish 3rd. This, in its own right, would be impressive. However, when considering the fact Fisichella held him up, it was clear there was a great deal of potential there. Now the Formula One fraternity had to look out for two Schumachers.
Ralf would continue to demonstrate his quality, and, in 1998, Jordan would gain the use of Mugen-Honda engines. Feelings at the start of the season were that the Mugen couldn't last. However, at the Belgian Grand Prix toward the end of the season, it would be the two Jordans running first and second.
Damon Hill had joined the team in 1998. The 1996 World Champion would not necessarily be the fastest driver with the team. In fact, Ralf would frequently out-qualify him. However, Hill knew how to collect the points and keep a car on the track. And, in the latter-stages of a rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix, the World Champion would be barely holding onto his car, let alone the lead. Behind him, Schumacher was much stronger. He was much quicker and coming closer and closer to attempting a pass for what would be his first victory. However, the conditions would dictate Eddie pass along the order that Ralf would hold station and help ensure Jordan not only secured its first victory, but a one-two on top of it all.
This decision would not sit well with the German and would only confirm what he had been feeling all along. In fact, the decision would be much more impactful than it had appeared. Michael had already bowed out in the terrible rain after a run-in with David Coulthard's stricken McLaren. And, while Hill would spend most of the race toward the front of the field, Ralf would climb up from an 8th place starting position and would be, by far, the faster of the two Jordans coming into the final laps of the race.
Hill's presence within the team had made life difficult for Schumacher and the way the Belgian Grand Prix played out made it more than obvious. He believed he could find a better opportunity with some other team. There was one team that could only offer promises, and even those were a stretch. Still, it was an opportunity not to be missed. The timing would be near perfect.
Damon Hill had earned his World Championship while driving for the Williams team in 1996. Ralf's brother had earned his two World Championships while battling with Hill and his Williams. Frank Williams was a well respected name within Formula One. The 1998 season had seen the team struggle having lost its Renault engines. Still, if there was one team that could offer success and deliver it was Williams. Therefore, it would seem only fitting that Ralf would join the very team against whom his older brother had had so many titanic battles. Joining Schumacher was not just looking for greener pastures with better opportunities. He was stepping out from his brother's shadow, telling the world he would be his own man. What he may not have realized at the time (but what everyone hoped) is that his move would set up an opportunity for the world to see two brothers go at it with rather equal circumstances.
The first season with Williams would be a difficult time as the team would be forced to make due with Supertec engines. However, Williams would be intimately involved in a sportscar project with BWM and the Formula One team would be a huge beneficiary of the partnership. Heading into the 2000 season, Williams would have BMW engines powering their FW22. What's more, Schumacher would be the elder member of the team as a young Jenson Button earned the drive in the second Williams. This meant Ralf would be front and center in the battle with his brother at Ferrari.
The FW22, with its new 3.0-liter BMW V10 engines showed a great deal of promise. Schumacher would finish the Australian Grand Prix, the first round of the season, on the podium. Another point-paying result in Brazil suggested he could steal one from his brother here and there. Many detractors believed Williams would struggle with the new BMW engines, and there would be some teething issues. However, the biggest struggle the team would face over the course of the season would be just not having the pace. This would all change in a big way the following season with the introduction of the FW23.
The Williams FW23 would help the famed team regain a place of prominence within Formula One. McLaren stumbled with their latest car and the partnership between Williams and BMW was really beginning to come into its own. The team would also get a boost with a very talented driver lineup that headlined Ralf Schumacher but that also boasted of the talented Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.
Montoya was the raw speed and performance while Schumacher would be the experience and consistency. Montoya, however, would find that, on his day, Ralf would be every bit as fast, and just as fast, if not more so, than his brother at Ferrari.
Never would this fact be more evident than throughout the 2001 season. Things would finally come good for Ralf in a big way and he would finally take his first Formula One victory winning the San Marino Grand Prix.
The whole weekend would be the little brother's opportunity to shine and demonstrate just what he was made of. The Formula One circus had returned to Europe and to the unofficial home of Ferrari, the Imola circuit. The Tifosi would be present and beyond itself as Michael set the early pace in practice and qualifying. David Coulthard would end up on the pole in the McLaren, but it would be Ralf's day to shine as he would prove more than his brother's equal bettering him to start 3rd on the grid, right beside his brother. It would be the first time in his Formula One career that he would out-qualify his brother and his mature, level-headed drive to victory firmly suggested the younger Schumacher was ready to step into his own limelight.
This first victory would be followed by two more victories over the course of the season. Montoya would only score one and it seemed abundantly clear Ralf was Williams' number and not someone to trifle with on the track. The victory over his brother in the Canadian Grand Prix would not only be the first time two brothers would finish one-two in a Formula One race, but the order also suggested something about the future as well.
Unfortunately, the 2001 season was another of Michael Schumacher dominance as he would win the championship by nearly twice as many points as the man in 2nd place, but the three victories by Ralf over the course of the season would help to overcome Montoya's struggles and would lead Williams to a 3rd place finish in the Constructors' Championship for the second straight year. This is not what the team wanted, nor believed was truly representative of their potential. All of this would change the following season. Unfortunately, it would not change for the better for Ralf.
The 2002 season would be difficult for Schumacher and Williams. Ferrari would be unbeatable. Just getting to the podium would be an achievement. Montoya would begin to show his qualities earning a number of 2nd place finishes. However, Williams would earn just one victory over the course of the season and that would be earned by Ralf at the Malaysian Grand Prix. In fact, it would be the first one-two finish for the team since the Portuguese Grand Prix back in 1996. The year before Ralf had finished ahead of Montoya in the championship standings. In 2002, however, the roles would be reversed and would only get worse the following season.
Ralf would be consistent, not failing to finish a race until the 12th round of the season. Once again, Scuderia Ferrari was proving to be the unbeatable entity in Formula One. All other teams and drivers needed to take points and podiums when and where they could get them. The first half of the season appeared to be another Michael Schumacher and Ferrari runaway with him taking four victories in the first eight races of the season. Kimi Raikkonen would take a victory and would be consistent throughout the same stretch to remain in touch in the fight for the championship. Ralf would be scoring points, but he could do no better than 4th on any of those occasions. It appeared as though he was out of the championship picture and that big brother would trounce his way to his fifth world title.
Ralf would not step onto the podium until the 8th round, but it would be an impressive leap forward in performance. His previous best had been two 4th place finishes. A 2nd place in the Canadian Grand Prix would make what had been a lackluster season better, but it would do little to please those at Williams who believed victory was well in hand. In the end, Ralf would not even put up a fight against his big brother and would end up a step down on the podium. Nonetheless, after a first half that had been filled with difficult performances, the 2nd place would kickoff a run that would bring Ralf into the championship picture.
Montoya had already earned a 2nd place and a victory on the streets of Monaco. It appeared Ralf had been supplanted by Juan Pablo at Williams. Then there would be the embarrassing Canadian Grand Prix when the superior Williams machines would get usurped by a struggling Michael Schumacher in a handicapped Ferrari.
It was clear Ralf and Juan Pablo had received a stern talking-to by those within Williams, but it would be Ralf that would respond the best storming back earning two-straight victories in the European and French grand prix. In the matter of a week Ralf would go from championship outsider to statistical contender. In both cases he would lead home a Williams one-two and again looked the part of team leader. Ralf had seemingly reacquired the role he had been handed when Juan Pablo had come to the team in 2001. However, the string of success would not continue and he would be out of the championship picture by the time of the Italian Grand Prix. A testing accident at Monza, which would leave him injured and unable to compete in the grand prix, would be just the final blow to any championship hopes, and to some confidence as well.
The 2003 season had turned out to be a disappointing near-miss. The 2004 season would prove to be a nightmare. Relations between Williams and BMW were beginning to unravel. The first half of the season would see just Montoya stand on the podium two times. Ralf's best would be a 4th place earned at the first round of the championship. Both drivers would be disqualified in the Canadian Grand Prix in a most embarrassing fashion.
At one point in the race Ralf had been challenging for the lead. This would wither with the heat. Both cars would finish the race with rather lackluster performances. But to add insult to injury, both Williams cars would be disqualified from the results after it was found their brake cooling ducts were too large. The gain from these larger ducts would be highly debatable, but what it would highlight was a difficult season that was about to get even worse for Ralf.
Williams arrived at the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in serious need of a good result. After the disqualification in Canada, the team had just two podium finishes to its credit and Ralf had earned none of them.
At the time, Michelin had become the tire to have in Formula One. Ferrari ran on Bridgestone tires. The Bridgestone tires had their strengths, but they were just not as good as the Michelins. In spite of this, Ferrari continued to dominate the World Championship. Michelin, therefore, offered its customers a tire with incredible grip, but the strength of the tire was questionable. Ralf would find this out first hand as he came through the banking at Indianapolis. The tire broke apart sending the German's Williams into the outside wall. The impact would read a deceleration value of 78g and would result in a concussion and two minor fractures in Ralf's spine. After four days in a nearby hospital, Ralf would make his way home to Germany where he would spend the next few months in bed.
The injury would cost Ralf the majority of the season and would pretty much bring an end to his career with Williams. Though he signed a deal with Toyota Racing for the following season, Ralf would return for the final three rounds of the 2004 season and would blow many away with a 2nd place result in the Japanese Grand Prix. It would be his best result of the season and would confirm the German's resilience and drive in spite of terrible circumstances.
Ralf could have sat out the remainder of the 2004 season. However, his willingness to come back, and his results over those three remaining races, suggested a bright future with the Toyota Racing team. Ralf himself would state he had a better chance at winning the title with Toyota than he ever had with Williams. Unfortunately, this would prove to be mere promotional talk as he would only manage to finish 4th place twice throughout the first eight races of the season. Then it was time to return to Indianapolis.
Ralf returned to Indy in 2005 driving for a new team in a new season. It appeared as though everything had changed and that there was no way of repeating the terrible accident of the previous year. Sadly, there would be one important carry-over between the two seasons—Michelin.
During practice for the United States Grand Prix, Ralf would be coming through the banking when he would suffer yet another tire failure. Terribly, the results of the accident would be far worse than the injuries Ralf suffered. All but three teams in Formula One ran Michelin tires. As a result of Ralf's accident, and the failure of the organizers to make any last minute changes to the circuit, the teams running on Michelin tires would come into the pits at the end of the reconnaissance lap leaving just six cars to take the start of the race. It would be one of the most embarrassing moments in Formula One history and Ralf's accident would be the unfortunate catalyst.
Sadly, the fiasco at Indianapolis would serve as a signpost to an embarrassing time at Toyota. Toyota would spend hundreds of millions of dollars and would be regarded up and down the pitlane as having one of the strongest cars. However, both car and driver would seem to have a propensity to fade over distance. This would lead to Ralf standing on the podium just three times over the course of three seasons with Toyota. There would be moments, flashes, of brilliance throughout those three seasons. But, those moments of sheer brilliance would be overshadowed by an unexplainable fading over the course of numerous grand prix. Ralf had been fighting hard in Formula One for a decade and it seemed clear he had lost his interest, his fighting spirit. This would be evident at the end of the 2007 season.
Ralf's time with Toyota would come to an end after a disappointing 2007 season in which he finished 16th in the driver standings. As it would turn out, he would have a better chance at winning the World Championship in nearly each of the six years he drove for Williams than any single one in which he drove for Toyota.
Still, he was a race winner. He had won half a dozen races over the length of his career. This meant he was still a man in demand. Though he would be turned down by McLaren, Hispania (HRT), Virgin and Lotus would all express interest in retaining his talents. However, after he ended up the slowest in a test for Force India the German would determine it was time to call it quits in Formula One.
Formula One had worn the German down. But the racer's spirit still beat within his chest. Though there was no opportunities within Formula One that interested him, the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) would offer him a perfect outlet to get beyond the politics and just go racing. Ralf would say it best when he said, 'I am still the same Ralf as at those times, the same racer who has fun in motor sports and who wants to compete with the best.' Therefore, Ralf would drive in DTM during the 2008 season for Mercedes.
Ralf would compete in DTM for five seasons. In the highly competitive series, points and podiums would be difficult to come by, especially for someone coming from Formula One. However, Ralf would earn a couple of points-paying results in his first season and would follow that up with a personal best season in 2011 when he would earn a couple of podium finishes and an 8th place result overall in the drivers' championship.
At the end of the 2012 season, Ralf would retire from all motorsports and would look to a life, but it would not be outside of motorsport. His first season in the DTM series had been while driving with Mucke Motorsport. Starting in 2013, Ralf would take on a managerial role within Mucke Motorsport which would include him helping in recruiting and coaching young drivers within the DTM team. Mercedes Motorsport Director, Toto Wolff, would declare Schumacher's role as 'vital' within the series, no doubt reverencing the German's abilities at forging his own path within the sport despite all of the expectations of his successful older brother.
Sadly, Ralf would still find himself in a very unfortunate role. In early 2014, Ralf would be forced out into the fore when Michael suffered terrible injuries from a skiing accident. Suddenly, Ralf would be the target of all the media, but it would still be all about his brother's condition. Even in near death, Michael's shadow would loom large over Ralf. Instead of being left alone to pray and care for his brother as most unknown siblings would, Ralf would again find himself answering questions about his brother, or, having to push his way past a media eagerly awaiting the latest news.
Even though all the record books would declare Michael Schumacher's name nearly everywhere, his brother Ralf more than forged his own path in Formula One. For more than a couple of brief moments the younger brother would step out from under the shadow of his brother's reputation and would prove himself to be an equal. Excuses aside, Ralf Schumacher more than deserves to be judged on his own, free from all sibling comparisons. As his own man in Formula One, he is a multiple race winner.
Proving more than once to be more than capable and surprisingly fast, it is, perhaps, better his real qualities are judged by those who raced against him than any family expectations that are absurdly impossible to equal. When such unfair expectations are thrown off, Ralf Schumacher more than stands on his own two feet within the hallowed halls of Formula One winners; he truly stands out from the shadows.Sources:
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