F1 Fanatic guest writer Journeyer concludes his look at Michael Schumacher’s F1 career.
After winning two championships with Benetton, Michael Schumacher moved to Ferrari in 1996 with the aim of winning the first drivers’ title for the team sine 1979.
That success didn’t come as quickly as many people expected. But once it did it opened the floodgates for a string of championship victories the like of which F1 had never seen.
1996: Schumacher knew before the season started that he had no realistic shot at the title, and focused on making Ferrari the second-fastest team. As the only non-Williams driver to win races that year, he was successful in that regard.
Of his three wins that year, his first win for Ferrari at Barcelona stands out the most. In the words of Martin Brundle, “He didn’t have the best car by a mile, but he won by a mile.”
1997: Initially, it seemed that Jacques Villeneuve in the Williams-Renault was a lock for the world championship. But he and the team made costly errors and after a controversial penalty in Japan Villeneuve went into the final round trailing Schumacher by one point.
The tense final round at Jerez was decided with another controversial collision – this time when Villeneuve made an opportunistic move to pass Schumacher at Curva Dry Sack. Villeneuve won the title, but it could’ve ended so differently after what happened here:
1998: With Renault’s (temporary) withdrawal from the sport, a different team emerged as Ferrari’s rival for the world championship. Just like 1997 with Williams and Villeneuve, it seemed that McLaren and Mika Hakkinen were set to end McLaren’s title drought. But Ferrari made a mid-season push.
Of those victories, this one at the Hungaroring was the most impressive. Ross Brawn helped mastermind a strategy to outsmart McLaren. To make it work, Schumacher had to build up a 25-second gap from nothing in 18 laps, while Hakkinen dropped back with a car problem.
Schumacher was in a strong position to win the next round at Spa-Francorchamps. But he collided with David Coulthard while trying to lap him. The ten points lost that day played a major role in deciding the outcome of the championship.
1999: Schumacher had a realistic chance of taking the title that year, especially when one considers the rough second half of the season Mika Hakkinen had. But Hakkinen still had a better run than Schumacher, who missed the second half of the season after breaking his leg in this crash at Silverstone.
2000: It started with such promise. Starting the season with three straight wins, the title was Schumacher’s to lose. But bad luck struck in the mid season, and his lead over Hakkinen and McLaren evaporated.
Schumacher turned the table at Monza with a precious win on a dark day for the sport as a marshal was killed following a crash on the first lap. In the press conference after the race a question about Ayrton Senna brought an astonishing reaction from Schumacher – he began to cry.
It was all smiles at Ferrari after Indianaplis, however, where an engine engine failure for Hakkinen put Schumacher solidly ahead in the title race. At Japan Schumacher hung on to Hakkinen, neatly passed him at the pit stops and took the win and, finally, the world championship.
2001: Ferrari increased their performance advantage the following year and the fight for victory was increasingly contested by their two drivers. The 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix showed the team’s coolness under pressure in their fifth season together.
Having led one-two in the opening stages, the Ferrari pair went off in unison after hitting oil left behind by Olivier Panis’ BAR while rain began to fall. They fell to the back of the pack but choosing intermediate tyres left them perfectly placed once the safety car had pulled in. In six laps, both Ferraris went from the back to the front of the field, ending up with a comfortable one-two victory.
By the time they got to Spa, Schumacher had been confirmed champion. But there was more. This win saw him overtake Alain Prost as the driver who’d won the most F1 races.
2002: This was Schumacher at the peak of his powers. He never qualified or finished lower than third all season, and broke more than a few records in the course of the year.
But nor was controversy very far away. In Austria, despite Ferrari’s huge performance advantage and the championship still in its early days, Jean Todt ordered Barrichello to give up the race win to Schumacher.
2003: Schumacher was on a mission that year: by winning the championship, his sixth title would mean he would pass Juan Manuel Fangio for the most drivers titles in F1 history.
After facing little opposition from their rivals in the previous two seasons Ferrari found themselves under pressure from McLaren and Williams in 2003. But when rival tyre supplier Michelin were ordered to change the construction of their rubber late in the season, Ferrari seized the initiative once again.
Rain at Indianapolis played to a traditional Bridgestone strength – wet weather tyre performance. Schumacher’s intermediates were so strong he passed Jenson Button on a drying track despite being on the wet line.
2004: One of Schumacher and Ferrari’s most impressive achievements was their streak of titles. Schumacher won his fifth titles in succession and Ferrari their sixth constructors’ title in a row.
One of the reasons for their continued dominance was the ability to think on their feet. In Magny-Cours that year, Fernando Alonso was ahead of Schumacher, but Ferrari still managed to pass him thanks to an unusual four-stop strategy.
2005: The man who finally ended Schumacher’s title streak, wasn’t even in F1 yet when Schumacher began winning titles with Ferrari. But just like a little over ten years before, it was a young upstart with the Enstone team that pulled off the upset again the fastest man on the grid. Not for nothing did Flavio Briatore once call Fernando Alonso the ‘anti-Schumacher’.
But that didn’t mean Schumacher took it lying down. Here was their battle at Imola – one of the most gripping encounters we saw that season.
2006: As Alonso continued to win races, and there were open rumors of Kimi Raikkonen moving to Ferrari, questions began to be asked of Schumacher’s future. Was he actually planning to retire at, while not the top of his powers, still one of the best on the grid?
After much speculation, he finally made an announcement at Monza. He was to retire at the end of the season… for the time being, at least.
Michael’s announcement came in the middle of what was his final push for a title. He had eliminated Alonso’s 24-point lead thanks in part to his final win for Ferrari at Shanghai.
Although his hopes for a title were effectively scuppered by an engine failure in Japan, Schumacher ended his Ferrari career on a high note – with a brilliant pass on his successor Raikkonen.
At the time no-one thought a comeback might happen, least of all with a team other than Ferrari.
But F1 never loses its capacity to surprise and sure enough he has returned and with the company that gave him his F1 break, Mercedes.
Does he still have the magic? Can he keep winning races in his forties? It’s no surprise his return has generated massive public interest.
Read more: Michael Schumacher’s career in video P1