F1 Fanatic guest writer Journeyer returns with his latest driver career history.
We don’t need a FOTA survey to tell us Michael Schumacher is the number one star of Formula 1. It’s been that way for some time.
Our first driver video history of 2010 looks at the career of the most successful F1 driver of all time.
1983: Schumacher began karting with the help of his parents who worked at his local Kerpen kart circuit. He moved up the ranks quickly and was exposed to the demands of media work at an early age.
Here he is from those early days answering questions from a German reporter:
1990: The first glimpse the wider world had of Michael Schumacher was when he raced at the Macau F3 race that year. He was up against a British F3 driver – no other than Mika Hakkinen. Hakkinen didn’t need to pass Schumacher to take the overall win, but he wanted the clean sweep. It produced a result every bit as controversial as you’d expect:
1991: Schumacher took an unusual route to F1. Rather than trying out for Formula 3000 (which was the F1 feeder series at the time), he went to drive in the World Sportscar Championship in a Mercedes.
Along with Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger, they were being touted as the young guns that would lead Mercedes back to F1 and title glory. Here is an excerpt from their Le Mans race that year – also including a short interview with Michael.
Schumacher has more than one reason to thank Belgium. Not only is it the home of his favourite circuit – Spa-Francorchamps – but it was a Belgian that inadvertently gave Michael his first break in F1.
It was at this time that Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot was arrested following an altercation with a London cab driver. Much to the shock of his team boss Eddie Jordan, Gachot was convicted and sentenced to a short, but season-ending jail term. Jordan needed a replacement, and fast.
Enter Willi Weber, who pitched for Schumacher to get the seat, paying with Mercedes money. Asked if his young charge had ever been around at Spa, Weber said yes, neglecting to mention that it has been on a bicycle.
That wasn’t obvious during qualifying, though, where Schumacher qualified seventh, up with several more experienced and better-equipped drivers like Nelson Piquet and Jean Alesi. One of the reasons he made up so much time was the way he took the Blanchimont corner. He was the only driver on the grid at the time taking the fast left-hander without lifting.
But his first race brought him back down to earth with a thump. His clutch failed shortly after he left the line and his Jordan coasted to a halt a few hundred metres later. By the next race Flavio Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw had swooped to prise him away from the furious Jordan and install him at Benetton in place of Roberto Moreno.
1992: As Schumacher’s prominence grew, people began to talk of him challenging Ayrton Senna’s reign as the best driver on the F1 grid. When they collided in France that year, Senna gave Schumacher a piece of his mind:
One year after his debut at Spa, he came back to the Belgian circuit as a confident F1 front-runner. As luck would have it, a mistake by Schumacher in the race helped him to win it. He fell behind team mate Martin Brundle and Schumacher observed how worn his Brundle’s tyres were. He decided to switch from wets to slicks and, exhibiting his trademark move of sprinting while others were pitting, Schumacher took the lead and the win.
1993: His second full year in the sport netted him a second win, in Estoril. But overall, while his speed improved, his consistency dropped slightly that year. Just as well that he wasn’t contending for the title that season. Here’s an onboard video of Schumacher at Adelaide that year:
1994: With Senna moving to Williams, who had dominated the championship for the last two years, many thought that the championship was a foregone conclusion. Instead, Schumacher, who many thought would be a distant second, was a lot closer than many thought.
In what was probably the only real head-to-head between Schumacher and Senna for a race win, Schumacher passed Senna during the pit stops and won by a whole lap while Senna spun into retirement
But even at this first race of the season there were rumours that Schumacher’s Benetton had retained some of the driver aids that had been banned for 1994, such as traction control.
Although he won nine races that year (though he was stripped of one of them afterwards) it was one of the rounds he didn’t win that stands out as one of his greatest feats behind the wheel of an F1 car. Schumacher’s Benetton got stuck in fifth gear during the Spanish Grand Prix – but he still managed to drag it home in second despite even having to make a getaway from a pit stop in fifth.
Controversy marred his second half of 1994. While the FIA investigated Benetton for illegal software and fuel rig tampering, Schumacher received two-race ban for ignoring a black flag at Silverstone, and was disqualified from the results of the British round. He was stripped of his win in the Belgium Grand Prix for excessive plank wear.
With just one race to go, Schumacher’s 30-point lead had evaporated to one point ahead of Damon Hill. The championship was resolved in a notorious encounter at Adelaide.
Was it an honest mistake or a deliberate act? Everyone has an opinion on this:
1995: Schumacher and Hill’s battles continued the following year. Some did not end well, with DNFs for both in Silverstone and Monza. But some were absolute gems, like this classic battle from Spa. Remember that Schumacher was on slicks and Hill was on wets on a wet track.
Schumacher kept going, with another come-from-behind win at the Nurburgring. What made this battle interesting was that he was up against Jean Alesi, the man he was set to replace at Ferrari in 1996. Not that it made that much difference to Schumacher, who passed Alesi two laps after catching him.
As Schumacher left the team he’d made great, many were questioning why he’d move to Ferrari, who hadn’t won a championship since 1983. We’ll look at his Ferrari years in part two tomorrow.