Feature | Michael Schumacher: Tribute to a Formula One legend
Tomorrow on January 3rd, 2019, Michael Schumacher turns 50. So let's take a look at the life and career of one of the greatest F1 drivers in history.
Author: Francis Plukker
Michael Schumacher was born on January 3, 1969, to Rolf Schumacher, a bricklayer at the time and his wife and Elisabeth in the town of Hürth, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
When Michael was just four years old his parents took him to the karting track at Kerpen-Horrem where he became the youngest member of the karting club. He started in a kart constructed by his father from discarded parts. Although not being very wealthy, Schumacher's parents encouraged Michael’s developing passion for the rather expensive hobby of karting. To support his son's racing, Rolf Schumacher even took on a second job renting and repairing karts at the Kerpen-Horrem track, while his wife worked at the track's canteen.
His first taste of victory came when Michael won his first kart club championship at the age of six. Following this success, Michaels parents arranged sponsorship from local businessmen that enabled Michael to continue to race and make progress.
Michael Schumacher won the 1984 German Junior Kart Championship - Photo: Sutton Images
In Germany the regulations stated that the minimum age one could obtain a karting license at was 14. To get around this Michael obtained a Luxembourg license, for which the minimum age was 12. In 1983 Michael obtained his German license and only one year after he won the German Junior Kart Championship. In 1985 Michael won the German championship and by 1987 he won the European championship, both while riding for for the Eurokart dealer Adolf Neubert team. Michael then quit school and began working as a mechanic but he soon gave op this job to become a full time racing driver. In 1988 he made his first step into single-seat car racing by participating in the German Formula Ford and Formula König series, winning the Formula König series in that same year.
In 1989, Schumacher signed with Willi Weber's WTS Formula 3 team and went on to win the German Formula 3 series title the year after. At the end of the 1990 season, Schumacher moved into sports car racing, joining the Mercedes junior racing programme in the World Sports-Prototype Championship, driving for Sauber. This was regarded as an unusual career move as the norm was stepping up to Formula 3000. Weber believed however, that exposure to professional press conferences and dealing with powerful cars in long races would help his career and further hone his racing craft.
Michael Schumacher in the Jordan 191 during his F1 debut at the Belgian Grand Prix (1991) - Photo: www.crankandpiston.com
Michael’s F1 career had a lucky start when Jordan's Formula One team found themselves minus a driver when Bertrand Gachot was involved in a road rage incident with a taxi driver and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. His Formula One debut came at The Belgian Grand Prix of 1991 at Spa-Francorchamps, qualifying an astonishing seventh, matching the team's season-best grid position and impressing the paddock. Unfortunately Michael had to retire on the first lap from this race because of a clutch failure of his Jordan-Ford. Jordan wished to sign Michael to the team, but Michael was advised by Weber to act cautiously, because Jordan was to use factory a Yamaha engine the following year and he suspected the engine not to be competitive.
After some legal wrangling, Michael got out of his temporary contract with Jordan and he was immediately snapped up by Benetton. In 1992 Michael drove his Benetton to his first F1 victory, again at Spa. Over the next four seasons with Benetton Michael would have great successes. He won a further 18 races and two world championships.
The moment when Schumacher took out Hill, the 1994 Championship battle was decided in Adelaide. - Photo: F1 Fanatic
The ‘94 season will forever be a dark page in the history of Formula One, most importantly because of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. Also, Schumacher's F1 title was somewhat tainted because Benetton was suspected of breaking the technical regulations. On lap 36 of the championship deciding Grand Prix of Adelaide, Schumacher hit a guardrail while leading the race. When Damon Hill (Michael’s closest challenger that season) attempted to pass, Schumacher’s car returned to the track and collided with the Williams of Hill. The retirement of both drivers decided the championship in Schumacher’s favour. Rumors go that the collision was caused on purpose by Schumacher. Whatever the case may be, as a result, Schumacher was the first German F1 World Champion. Michael dedicated his title to Ayrton Senna. In 1995 Michael defended his title successfully and without controversy.
Schumacher celebrates his first F1 Championship title with his team at the Australian GP in 1994. - Photo: www.motorsport.com
In 1996, Schumacher moved to Ferrari a year before his contract with Benetton expired. He later stated that the opted out of his deal with them because of the team's damaging actions in 1994. Ferrari had last won the Drivers' Championship in 1979 and the Constructors' Championship in 1983, but Schumacher began his time with Ferrari promisingly, claiming three wins in 1996 and five more in 1997. Unfortunately that season ended again with controversy when in the final race at Circuito de Jerez in Spain, Schumacher tried to ram the Williams of his title rival Jacques Villeneuve off the road. He was unsuccessful and ended up stuck in a gravel trap, retiring from the race. As punishment for his misdemeanour Schumacher was disqualified from the Drivers' Championship and his points and his second place in the championship were stricken from the record books.
Michael finished the 1998 season in second place after a hard-fought battle with Mika Häkkinen and saw his title chances for 1999 blown after he broke his leg during a crash at Silverstone when his rear brakes failed at the high speed Stowe corner.
Schumacher and the Ferrari F1-2000 won Ferrari's first Championship in 21 years. - Photo: www.motorsportretro.com
From then on Schumacher and Ferrari seemed unbeatable. Schumacher became Ferrari's first champion in 21 years in 2000 and then went on to win the World Championship for the next four consecutive years. In 2002 he won 11 times and finished on the podium in all 17 races. In 2003 he broke Juan Manuel Fangio’s record by winning his sixth F1 World Championship. In 2004 he won 13 of the 18 races to win his seventh championship.
Schumi in his F2004 at the 2004 Monaco GP. This car would bring Michael his seventh F1 title. - Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In 2005 Schumacher took third place in the championship and in 2006 he came in second. At this time Schumacher was unboubtetely the most successful F1 driver in history and with 91 won races and seven World Championship titles, Schumacher decided it was time to retire. He would stay with Ferrari in a new role as a consultant.
However, Michaels retirement would prove only to be a relatively short break when it was announced that he’d return as driver for the new Mercedes GP team for the 2010 season. Michael was 41 years old when he made his return in F1 as a driver. Unfortunately he wasn’t nearly as successful as he was in his glory days and Michael only made the podium once in his three-year comeback. He gave his best and said that, although not as successful as before, he’d enjoyed the second part of his career and that it was a good time to go. Michael retired from F1 for good after the 2012 season.
After a short retirement, Schumacher returned to F1 to race with Mercedes. - Photo: www.motorsport.com
Unfortunately Michael didn’t enjoy his permanent retirement for long when he sustained a very serious head injury while on a family skiing holiday in the French Alps. On 29 December 2013, while skiing with his 14-year-old son Mick, he crossed an unsecured off-piste area in Méribel, France, where he fell and hit his head on a rock. This accident left him in a medically induced coma for several months due to the severity of his brain injury.
On March 7th 2014 it was reported that his condition was stable and on April 4th 2014, Schumacher's agent reported that he was showing moments of consciousness as he was gradually withdrawn from the medically induced coma. By June 16th, Michael had regained consciousness and in November of that year, it was reported that Schumacher was paralysed and in a wheelchair and that he could not speak and has memory problems. In 2015, Schumacher's manager said his condition was improving "considering the severeness of the injury he had." His family have rarely spoken about the accident or Schumacher's condition since his accident but manager Sabine Kehm spoke on their behalf on the eve of the 2018 F1 season, stating that “the family really appreciates the empathy of the fans.”
In November of 2018, the Schumacher family released a video interview of Michael that was recorded in October 2013, just two months before his accident. In the interview, titled “Michael Talks”, Michael answers a variety of questions about F1, his career and his rivals. You can watch the video on the Schumacher website.
The latest news at the time of writing suggests that Michael is "no longer bedridden" and he is actually living in the main body of the family home. Let's hope this is true and that his condition continues to improve in the future.
Michael Schumacher. A man with pure passion for racing, that started as a little child and never faded during his unprecedented length of time at the top, resulting in more Grand Prix victories and championship titles than anyone in history to date.
He will always be hailed as one of the greatest of all time… if not the greatest!