Michael at 50: The Story Behind The Legend
Every sport in the world has that one person so associated with it that those who do not even follow it instantly know who they are and what they do, usually thanks to the fact that they’ve made such an impact. If I said Boxing, you would say Mohammad Ali or Mike Tyson. If I said Soccer, you would say Ronaldo or Leo Messi, and if I say Formula One, you would instantly say Michael Schumacher. Statistically, Michael is the most successful driver in the entire history of the sport, with 7 World Titles, 91 Wins, and 155 Podiums, he has had unrivalled success in his career that spanned 19 seasons in F1. Sadly in December 2013, Michael suffered a horrendous brain injury in a skiing accident while on holiday with his family in France, something he is still greatly suffering from to this day. So, on his 50th birthday, I decided to take a look at his amazing story in Formula One as he came from quick replacement to the best driver in the sport.
Like almost all young promising stars, Michael had a very good junior career. He became the German Formula 3 Champion in 1990, and seen good results and victories in the 1990 and 1991 World Sportscar Championship. He was drafted into the Jordan team for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix after regular driver Bertrand Gachot after he was imprisoned for assaulting a taxi driver in London. A nervous Schumacher instantly impressed the paddock. Despite learning the notorious Spa-Francorchamps circuit by means of a fold up bicycle he had with him, Schumacher qualified in seventh, and ran as high as fifth on the first lap before a clutch failure ended what was a magical debut. Nonetheless, it was enough to impress a certain Flavio Briatore, who instantly whipped up Schumacher and put him driving for his Benetton team from the following race. He also raced with the team until the end of 1995, taking his first podium at the 1992 Mexican Grand Prix and first win in Belgium that year.
Schumacher would also take his first two titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995. 1994 itself being a very controversial season for many reasons, Michael and the Benetton team were constantly being suspected of cheating, with early title rival Ayrton Senna believing the Benetton B194 was using the traction control systems that were banned at the start of the year, due to the great starts Schumacher got off the line. Despite a two race ban for ignoring black flags at Silverstone and a disqualification in Belgium, Schumacher would eventually win his first title after a heated finale in Adelaide seen him and late title charger, Damon Hill, collide putting both cars out of the race. Schumacher, like so many other drivers was visibly upset by the death of Senna and Simtek driver Roland Ratzenberger in separate accidents in that years’ San Marino Grand Prix. Schumacher, battling Senna early on in the race was directly behind the Brazilian at the time of the accident, and dedicated his title to him, believing that Senna would’ve eventually won it. 1995, despite a few accidents with Hill, would turn out to be a far more dominant season, taking 9 wins and a second title to his tally.
1996 saw Michael switch teams to the legendary Ferrari team. Ferrari had not won a drivers championship since Jody Scheckter in 1979, and their last constructors win was in 1983, but thanks to the hard work of Schumacher and former Benetton staff Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn, the team were fighting hard for the titles in 1997. Once again, Michael found himself in a battle with a Williams driver, this time with the Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve, son of Ferrari legend Gilles. The pair collided during season finale at Jerez, as Villeneuve tried to make a crucial move for victory on the leading Schumacher. The suspicion and impending decision by the FIA was that it looked like a deliberate collision on Michael’s behalf, leaving him being disqualified from the championship, as Villeneuve would crawl home to take third and ultimately the title. Close battles with Mika Hakkinen and a very on form McLaren team for the next two years, and an awful accident at Silverstone in 1999 after a brake failure and an eventual broken leg further silenced Michael’s quest for a title with Ferrari, but the dream would finally be accomplished in 2000.
Ferrari took the Constructors title in 1999, and with Schumacher’s glorious title win in 2000 prompted the start of a dominant run which seen the team swoop both titles until they were eventually stopped by Fernando Alonso and the Renault (formerly Benetton) team in 2005. This was an incredible run by Schumacher, and despite only been properly challenged by a young Kimi Raikkonen in 2003 and the odd threat from McLaren and his brother Ralf at Williams, Michael and Ferrari dominated the five years of title success. Michael also was known for showing major emotion, after he cried like a child for millions to see on live television after a reporter informed him during the press conference at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix that he had equaled Senna's total wins count with the victory he took in front of thousands of Ferrari tiofosi and fans, and of course his emotional win at Imola in 2003, just hours after learning of his mother's passing after a lengthy battle with cancer. Coming close but losing out to Alonso once again, Schumacher shocked the racing world when he announced his retirement from F1 at the 2006 Italian Grand Prix. He would stay on with the Italian team however, working alongside them as an advisor at the races for the team.
Schumacher worked up a close relationship with former teammate Felipe Massa during their time together at Ferrari in 2006, and was on course to replace the Brazilian while Massa recovered after his accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, but determined that it would not be possible due to the injuries he sustained a few months prior in a motorcycle accident. It seemed as if the daring hope to see Schumacher race once again would not come to light until the unthinkable. After Mercedes announced that they would take over Ross Brawn’s one hit wonder team with Brawn as team principal in 2010, Schumacher was announced alongside fellow German Nico Rosberg to head the team in 2010. Schumacher competed in three seasons from 2010-2012.
Although he only accomplished one podium in his three year run and it seemed as if he was a former shadow of his self, the flashes of brilliance he was known for was still there. He took an amazing pole position in Monaco in 2012, but would sadly only start sixth thanks to a grid penalty after an accident with Bruno Senna at the previous race in Barcelona. His only podium would come at Valencia, where he stood alongside past rivals Kimi Raikkonen (now at Lotus.) and winner Fernando Alonso now at Ferrari. He would eventually step down at the end of the 2012 season, opening the door for a certain Lewis Hamilton to join the team, saying that this time “might just be forever.”
Michael was enjoying the quite life away from the sport with his family he craved and talked about for so many when disaster stuck in December 2013. Whilst skiing with his family, a hobby of Michael’s, he fell and hit his head severely on a rock. The helmet he had been wearing was reported to have been cracked and medical staff present had suggested he would’ve died on impact had he not been wearing one. Schumacher went into a coma in the nearby Grenoble Hospital suffering a traumatic brain injury. He regained consciousness in June 2014 and eventually got back home for rehab and treatment, but has not been seen in public since. The family and close friends have decided to keep Michael’s condition private and even though it’s frustrating to have such reports rare, and I believe it is only right that Michael’s initial decision to walk away and keep private is only fulfilled at his major time of need.
Michael’s son Mick is also currently making waves in junior formula just like his father, winning the Euro Formula 3 championship in 2018 after a close battle with Red Bull junior driver Dan Tinktum. Mick will move into Formula 2 for this year, with the hope of an eventual move to F1 for the future and returning the legendary name back where it belongs. On the day of his 50th birthday, today (3rd January 2019.) I would like to wish Michael a very happy birthday and all the best to him and his family, and that myself and many other fans stand together to always support Michael as he makes his recovery in the hope to see the legend driver once again. Keep Fighting Michael, Win 92 is never far away.