|Micheal Schumacher: 'I am not a legend.'|
|by Jeremy McMullen|
| Michael Schumacher has often made such declarations, but his assertion that he is 'not a legend' couldn't be any more true. For the simple reality is this: his career has been anything but non-historical or unverifiable. His career, his achievements certainly are not mere myths or stories handed down by tradition. They are as real as the man himself. However, his career and achievements certainly do reserve him a place amongst the mythological, the fabled of Formula One World Championship history.|
The real life story of Michael Schumacher begins in the town of Hurth-Hermulheim in the Rhein-Erft-Kreis district of Germany. The town, located just a little over 5 miles from the city of Cologne, features a number of lakes and large stretches of deeply-forested land and could be considered a veritable birthplace for grand prix stars. In 1928, the area would give birth to Wolfgang von Trips. A very picturesque town, Hurth would be the home of Rolf and Elisabeth Schumacher. In Hurth, Rolf and Elisabeth would give birth to Michael on the 3rd of January in 1969. A little over six years later, Rolf and Elisabeth would give birth to yet another future grand prix star Ralf.
Throughout his racing career, Michael was well known for his focus and hard work ethic. And while many would attribute that to his German nationality, a lot of that drive and ethic could be attributed to the example of his parents. Rolf had a very modest profession as a bricklayer. His mother would also take to working when Michael started seriously racing karts.
Needless to say, Michael's parents were unable to really pay and provide top notch karts for Michael. However, Rolf would do what he could do to encourage his son. It would all start out with a pedal kart that Rolf would modify by placing a small motorcycle engine on to power it for his then four year old son. This would lead to Michael becoming the youngest member of the karting club in nearby Kerpen.
The inability of his parents to fully pay for his racing interests would not make him bitter toward his parents. If anything, he only further cemented his insatiable thirst to be the best. He had no pride. He would end up scrounging around karting tracks looking for discarded tires and other parts that wealthier families would just leave behind. He and his father would then put together their kart made up of rejected parts and would go on to defeat the competition. In fact, at the age of just six years old, Michael would take his patchwork kart and would win his first club championship.
The sad reality was there was only so much patching that can be done on a kart made up of discarded parts. And there were times that Michael's young racing career faced an early retirement due to insufficient means. But his talent and drive would always seem to attract the attention of those willing to help and Michael, and the history of Formula One World Championship racing, would be forever grateful.
As with just about everyone's life, whether great or small, there were a number of rather providential moments that would come to define Schumacher's racing career. There were those 'finds' at the karting tracks that would help him to continue to race and be successful. There were those local businessmen that paid for parts and necessary repairs. There would be those surrounding nations that had lower age minimums to get a karting license. And then were would be Willi Weber.
By the late 1980s, Schumacher had already quit school and started work as a mechanic. He had already won the German Junior Kart Championship in 1982 and had gone on to win numerous other German and European kart championships. After joining Eurokart, he would add a couple more championships to his resume in 1985 and again in 1987.
The success in karts set the stage for Schumacher to try his hand at slightly larger formulas. In 1988 he had participated in the German Formula Ford and Formula Konig series. He would go on to win the Konig series, which would attract the attention of Willi Weber.
Schumacher would sign with Weber for 1989 and would begin driving for the WTS Formula Three team. Showing his ability to continue to increase his ability with every increase in formula, Schumacher would win the German Formula 3 Championship in 1990. However, his next career move would be perhaps the most surprising move of his entire career.
In an era of Fangio, Ascari and Moss, it was not at all uncommon to see such talented drivers make the leap into many different forms of racing, especially sports car racing. Indeed, all three men had either taken part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans or some other kind of long distance sports car race. Even in the 1960s, it was not at all surprising to see Jim Clark take to the wheel of just about any racing car he could get his hand on. But toward the later part of the 1980s, and heading into the 1990s, most drivers maintained a singular focus. At Weber's advice, Schumacher would not.
Weber's point with the suggestion of making the move to the Worlds Sports-Prototype Championship was two-fold. For one thing, driving prototypes would enable Michael to get used to driving powerful machines. Secondly, taking part in such races as the 24 Hours of Le Mans would cause Schumacher to get used to the media attention similar to that he would experience in Formula One were he to get there. A by-product of taking part in such long distance races was simple—focus and concentration. Therefore, toward the end of the 1990 season, Michael would join the Mercedes junior racing program.
Schumacher would be signed to Sauber-Mercedes late in 1990. He would have the opportunity to drive the Sauber-Mercedes C11 and would prove to be a quick study as he would go on to win the final race of the season in Mexico. Despite only taking part in the last three of nine rounds in the series, the victory in Mexico would help him to finish 5th in the championship.
1991 would see Michael back with the Sauber-Mercedes team. During that season, he would take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and would finish 5th with co-drivers Karl Wendlinger and Fritz Kreutzpointner. Michael would go on to again win the season finale at the Autopolis in Japan during that year.
In addition to taking part in the World Sports-Prototype Championship, Schumacher would also take part in just one race of the Japanese Formula 3000 Championship where he would finish that one race in 2nd place.
All of this set the stage for the truly illustrious career that Michael would become idolized for. But it certainly would start out in one of the most unobtrusive ways.
In 1991, Eddie Jordan had entered Formula One. His green-livered, 7-Up sponsored machines were by no means tearing up the grid. At best, his cars were mid-pack runners during that season. But by the time the team headed to Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix, Jordan had more serious problems than where his cars were running. One of Jordan's drivers, Bertrand Gachot had shown some promise but he also had a penchant for trouble. The man had co-driven with Johnny Herbert and Volker Weidler to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year for Mazda. However, by the Belgian Grand Prix, Gachot was busy sitting in prison. Gachot had been sentenced two months in prison for spraying CS gas on a London taxicab driver after there was an altercation. Therefore, Jordan needed another driver, but he wanted one that knew Spa well. Jordan was familiar with Schumacher and was interested in the young driver, but he didn't know what kind of experience he had around the 4 mile Spa circuit. By now, Weber was Schumacher's agent. He assured Jordan that his client had a good amount of experience with the Spa circuit. Weber's word was good enough for Jordan to negotiate with Mercedes for Schumacher's services.
The problem was, despite growing up not all that far from the Belgian border, Michael had only ever seen the Spa circuit. He had never actually been around it. Nonetheless, after a successful test at Silverstone where he thoroughly impressed Jordan's designer Gary Anderson, Schumacher would head to Spa with the team.
To gain valuable experience and to become intimate with the details of the Spa circuit Michael would take off on a lap around it. Known for his fitness levels throughout his career, Schumacher would make his first lap around the Spa circuit not in a car, but on a fold-up bicycle. It would certainly seem to work as he would take the number 32 Jordan-Ford and would qualify 7th for his first-ever World Championship race. Even then, his ability to put together a lap when it counted was quite evident. The performance would set the paddock abuzz with talk and would even have German journalist comparing Schumacher's talent with the great Stefan Bellof. Ironically, it was at Spa that the fast Bellof would lose his life.
What made Schumacher's performance in qualifying that much more stirring was the simple fact he had tied the team's best starting performance of the year in his first attempt and with very little overall experience, especially around the circuit. The other staggering point would be the number of places between himself on the grid and his vastly more experienced teammate Andrea de Cesaris. In reality, de Cesaris was to show Schumacher how to get along in Formula One. It was apparent, almost from the very start of practice, that it would end up being the other way around.
The race, unfortunately, would not provide a fairy-tale beginning to Schumacher's Formula One career. In fact, it would be probably the lowest point of the whole experience given that he would retire on the first lap with gearbox failure. But his Formula One career had begun the moment he set the 7th-fastest time in qualifying, and not with his performance in the race.
It had begun. With all of the greats of any sport or sphere of life a little controversy is bound to spiral around apparently adding balance to image. Over the course of Schumacher's Formula One career more than a little bit of controversy has surrounded him. Not surprisingly, just as Schumacher's Formula One career was beginning, so too would the controversy.
Almost immediately after his performance at Spa, Benetton came calling wanting the services of the young man. Jordan had a signed agreement with Mercedes for the remainder of the season, but it was in principle, or incompletely specified, only. This opened the door to Benetton-Ford signing Schumacher before the very next race. Despite protests by Jordan, Michael would still drive for Benetton throughout the rest of the season.
Schumacher's position as one of the greats could have been firmly unquestionable even before his years with Ferrari had it not been for the era of Williams-Renault.
Michael's first full season of Formula One would be in 1992. That year would be thoroughly dominated by Nigel Mansell, Williams and the Renault engine. Complete with nine victories and a gaggle of pole-positions, Mansell would have 52 points in hand over his teammate Riccardo Patrese by the end of the season. Despite driving what was considered at the time a 'conventional' Benetton B192, Schumacher would score his first podium finish at Mexico and would take his first victory at the very same track he made his Formula One debut one season earlier. As a result, Schumacher would end the season 3rd place in the championship.
In 1993, Williams-Renault would again be dominant. Despite retirements in more than a half-dozen races, Michael would still come through to finish 4th in just his second full season in Formula One.
Then came 1994 and 1995 seasons. Schumacher's car was greatly upgraded and the results were very plain to see. Victories in six of the first seven races placed the Drivers' Championship squarely in Schumacher's hands. However, the season was to be anything but easy for the German.
The early part of the season would be covered in darkness because of the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix. The later-half of the season would then be marred by controversy, and ultimately, 'the collision'.
After an almost perfect start to the season, investigations, unheeded black flags and illegal skidblock wear would lead to a number of disqualifications that would allow Damon Hill to be within a point of the title heading into the final race of the season in Adelaide. When leading late in Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher perhaps showed the pressure was getting to him as he struck a guardrail while lapping all by himself. This loss of momentum allowed Hill to catch up and dive down the inside into the next corner. This set the stage for the controversial 'collision'.
Hill had dove down the inside in an attempt to take the position from Michael. However, reminiscent of the all-out brawls between Senna and Prost, Schumacher would turn in on Hill colliding with him taking each other out of the race and securing Schumacher's first World Championship.
No such tactics would be needed the following year, not when Benetton was able to secure the use of Renault engines themselves. Schumacher would cruise to his second World Championship with more than 30 points in hand over Hill in the Williams-Renault. This made Schumacher the youngest-ever double World Champion and would cause him to look for a new challenge.
At the time Schumacher made the move to Ferrari, the team from Maranello was by no means the fabled team with the prancing horse that had won so many races from the 1950s through the 1960s and 1970s. It seemed Ferrari's best years were far behind them. But with the presence of Jean Todt, Schumacher, and soon, Ross Brawn, the best years were yet to come.
The rest of the 1990s would be tough for Schumacher while at Ferrari. In 1996, Ferrari was becoming more competitive, as demonstrated by Schumacher's three victories and 3rd place finish in the championship. But, the team just could not compete with Damon Hill and the Williams FW-18B.
The following season would see the incredible rise of Ferrari from mediocrity. In what seemed to be a complete turn-around, Ferrari was a favorite to win at almost every race despite Jacques Villeneuve and the Williams FW-19. All that would be gained throughout the season, especially for Schumacher's career, would be lost, however at Jerez.
Problems late in the race would cost Michael performance. This meant Villeneuve was in a strong position to take the title, as well as, put his rival down a lap before the end of the race. Unwilling to yield, Schumacher would turn in on Villeneuve in a fashion similar to his contact with Hill in 1994. While the contact would end the race for Schumacher, it would not end Villeneuve's day and the title would end up going to the Canadian. Schumacher's parting gift would be a disqualification from the Driver's Championship for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The remainder of the '90s would see McLaren-Mercedes the strongest team, and yet, Schumacher would remain right there in the fight throughout the 1998 season and into 1999 until he would break his leg at Silverstone.
While it appeared McLaren was the strongest team during the two-year period, much would be attributed to another great driver, Mike Hakkinen. The Ferrari team still wasn't quite on song, and yet, Schumacher would continue to take the car and would battle with Hakkinen and Coulthard for victories throughout the two years. Schumacher would give it everything he had, but over those two years, Hakkinen would be more than equal to the task. The Finnish driver's talent would secure him a double World Championship and praise from Michael saying that Mika was, 'Toughest competitor he had ever faced'.
Trials and struggles are meant to make one stronger, and in the case of the two-year battle with Hakkinen and McLaren, the trials and battles would only make Schumacher and Ferrari into unbending, unyielding titanium.
The 2000 season would see one more titanic battle between Schumacher and Hakkinen. The first part of the season would see Michael very strong and seemingly untouchable. However, mechanical troubles and other problems would enable Hakkinen to reel Michael back in. The World Drivers' Championship, the first for Ferrari in 21 years was on the line. But when Schumacher put in an incredible performance at the Italian Grand Prix to take the win and tie Aryton Senna for career victories, it was all but ensured Schumacher would reign supreme again.
The stats from the Ferrari/Schumacher era between 2000 and 2004 would be enough to tell the story. After tying Artyon Senna for wins with 41 in 2000, Michael would go on to score a record-tying nine victories in 2001 and would better David Coulthard for the championship by more than 50 points. During that year, Michael and his brother Ralf would make history as the two men would become the only brothers to score victories in a Formula One race, and then, they would be the only brothers to finish a race 1st and 2nd. They would achieve that feet twice during the year.
The following year, 2002, would be even better, but it would be a controversial dominance. Ferrari would go on to win 15 of the 17 races. However, one of those races would be the much maligned Austrian Grand Prix where Rubens Barrichello would be ordered by the team to slow down on the last lap in order to allow Michael, his teammate, to take the win. This would be met with boos and jeers from the crowd that would cause Schumacher to be quite embarrassed and even try to make amends by giving Barrichello the top step of the podium. During that season, Michael would set the mark for victories in a season with 11 and would equal the great Juan Manuel Fangio with five World Drivers' Championships. The final results of the season said it all. Schumacher scored an incredible 144 points, a record-breaking 67 more points than his own teammate!
The 2003 season would be much more tightly contested between Ferrari, McLaren, and later, Williams. Michael started out poorly and fell behind Kimi Raikkonen. Then Juan Pablo Montoya entered the ix scoring a couple of victories. However, a late change to the regulations regarding tires hurt Michelin, which is what McLaren and Williams were running, and helped Bridgestone, which were on the Ferrari. The later-part of the season saw a strong fight, but in the end, Schumacher would break all records with his sixth World Drivers' Championship.
2004 would see a return to the level of dominance witnessed during the 2002 season. It would start out with Michael winning 12 of the first 13 races of the season. He would go on to score a total of 13 wins out of a possible 18 races and would break his own mark for wins in a single season that he had set back in 2002 with 11. This earned Schumacher his seventh World Drivers' title and would be his last one to date.
The 2005 and 2006 seasons would be the final couple of scenes of Schumacher's first act. The 2005 season would be a relative nightmare for the team. And, Fernando Alonso would go on to win the championship. Schumacher would end the season in 3rd place, but would be more than half the total points behind Alonso.
The following season would start out looking to be more of the same after Alonso dominated the early part of the season. However, problems for Alonso, and a strong of victories for Michael, would cause the championship to go down to the last couple of races on the season. After leading the Japanese Grand Prix with only about 16 laps remaining, Michael would suffer his first engine failure since 2000. This gave Alonso the advantage going into the final race of the season in Brazil.
It had already been announced by Schumacher at the Italian Grand Prix when he won that race that the Brazilian Grand Prix, the last race of the season, would be Schumacher's last race in Formula One. Heading into the final race, Schumacher had already conceded the championship to Alonso but would put together one final performance that would certainly be one for the history books.
A tire puncture would lead to Michael falling all the way down to 19th place and a little more than a minute behind the leader. Determined to put together one final 'heroic' drive, Michael would go on the charge. Coming down to the final few laps of the race, he would end up passing Giancarlo Fisichella and Kimi Raikkonen to finish the race in 4th place. It would be considered a 'performance that…sums up his career'.
Besides all of the records and words of respect from his peers, perhaps those things that would speak the most about who Schumacher was and is as a driver would be such titles as 'Regenmeister' (rain master), or, 'the Red Baron'. Such titles would be well earned throughout his first act in Formula One.
Schumacher's career after Formula One wouldn't stray too far away from the sport as he would take on an advisor role with Ferrari and would be a super assistant to the newly appointed CEO Jean Todt. During that time, Michael would turn a few laps in the latest cars helping with development and would even be involved in picking drivers for the team.
For all of the records and the awards, which would include three European Athlete of the Year awards, the World Sportsman of the Year, Sportsman of the Century, being named an honorary citizen of Maranello and Ambassador of the Republic of San Marino, a Silver Laurel Leaf, the Prince of Asturias Award and the Knight of the French Legion of Honor, Michael, and his wife Corinne, would do their best to live as normal a life as possible with their two kids Gina Maria and Mick. Michael and Corinne would do their best to instill the same values and ethic both of their parents had done with them, and therefore, Michael would become much more involved in humanitarian work and would be a spokesman for UNESCO.
When asked about this Michael responded, 'I think the fact that Corinne and I both come from a normal family home, it makes us a little bit easier. We live relatively normal, and we try to show our children that we do not need anything.'
It would be this notion, this living without need of anything would be the impetus for his involvement with UNESCO and children in need. When asked about his motivation to help children and UNESCO, Michael related, 'Before, I had no money. From the moment I began to earn more money than I had ever dared to hope, I have felt this need.'
But besides the humanitarian work, the greater emphasis on his karting team he started with Peter Kaiser and Thomas Muchow (KSM Motorsport) and even an apparent brief period as Top Gear's 'The Stig', the thrill and commitment of Formula One just wouldn't cease coursing through his veins.
Schumacher has always vehemently stated, 'I am not a legend. I'm just someone who happens to be good at doing something he enjoys.' He would also go on to relate, 'Snatching a victory out of a hopeless situation always gives more satisfaction than any set of statistics ever do.' Well, upon his return to Formula One in 2010, Schumacher would find himself entering perhaps the biggest and toughest challenge of his entire career, perhaps even greater than bringing Ferrari back to the pinnacle of the sport it had helped define.
Throughout his first act as a Formula One driver, Schumacher seemed to be always up against foes driving Adrian Newey-designed cars. Upon his return to the sport in 2010, he would again be up against the might of Adrian Newey, but this time with Red Bull Racing. And at the end of the second of his three-year deal with Mercedes GP it would appear the roles have been reversed. After dominating throughout much of the 1990s and the early part of the 21st century, it would be he and his team that would look like the floundering teams just looking for whatever points it could find. And while it would have such greats as Stirling Moss suggesting he might be 'past it', the fact, the reality of Schumacher's presence on the grid certainly still causes respect to be shown to the seven-time World Champion. In fact, one of his former nemeses, Damon Hill, would declare, 'you should never write Schumacher off'.
Putting all of the debate aside about the cars, the teams and the competition, there are all of the facts and everything that reality would have to offer. There are the too-numerous-to-count last ditch fastest laps that would certain make an account. And there is the vast array of awards and honors that obviously would attest to the hailing that Niki Lauda and David Coulthard have given Schumacher calling him, 'the greatest'. And quite simply that much is fact, not legend.'About: Portrait', (http://www.michael-schumacher.de/sites/en/about/portrait.html). Michael Schumacher. http://www.michael-schumacher.de/sites/en/about/portrait.html. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
'Profiles: Michael Schumacher', (http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes-benz/motorsport/driver/1146.html). ESPN F1. http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes-benz/motorsport/driver/1146.html. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
'Mercedes/News: Schumacher is ‘past it'—Moss', (http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes-benz/motorsport/driver/1146.html). ESPN F1. http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes-benz/motorsport/driver/1146.html. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
'Damon Hill: Never, Ever, Ever , Ever Write Off Schumacher', (http://theblackstuff.co.uk/?p=1438). The Black Stuff: Formula One Analysis with the Jokes Left In. http://theblackstuff.co.uk/?p=1438. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
'Tributes to Schumi', (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/6075194.stm). BBC Sport: Motorsport. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/6075194.stm. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Michael Schumacher', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 December 2011, 02:37 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Michael_Schumacher&oldid=467434477 accessed 27 December 2011
Wikipedia contributors, 'Hürth', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 December 2011, 16:14 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=H%C3%BCrth&oldid=466876695 accessed 27 December 2011
1990 480km of Mexico City
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