Schumacher F1 Debut
Formula 1 is widely regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport, and over the last 70 years, it has attracted some of the best and most competitive drivers the world has ever seen. Despite all of the superstars and talented drivers who have driven in Formula 1, the achievements of one driver still stand out over all others: with 7 World Championship titles, 91 Grand Prix wins, 68 Pole Positions and 77 Fastest Laps, Michael Schumacher is unquestionably the most successful F1 driver of all time.
Michael Schumacher exploded onto the F1 scene at the Belgian Grand Prix of 1991, drafted into the Jordan team as a last-minute replacement for Bertrand Gachot, who had been sentenced to prison following a road rage incident in the UK.
Prior to his F1 debut, Schumacher had only ever completed around 20 laps in an F1 car, just a few days before his debut, and had never previously raced at the challenging Spa Francorchamps circuit. His accommodation for the race weekend was the local youth hostel, and he had to familiarize himself with the corners of the historic Ardennes circuit by pedaling around the track on a folding bicycle. Despite this less than ideal start to his F1 career, Schumacher quickly accustomed himself to the car and the circuit, ending his first practice session just half a second off the pace of his vastly more experienced teammate Andrea de Cesaris, a veteran of ten F1 seasons. In qualifying, he stunned the F1 paddock by qualifying in 7th place, with teammate de Cesaris only managing to qualify 11th. Sadly, Schumacher’s race lasted less than a lap, and he was forced to retire due to a clutch related mechanical failure. However, this sensational performance by the 22 year old rookie impressed Benetton team boss Flavio Briatore so much that he immediately moved to secure the services of the young Michael Schumacher for Benetton.
The Benetton Years
Briatore was on a mission to turn the Benetton Formula 1 Team into a team able to compete for the World Championship, and in Schumacher, he saw the kind of driving talent that he could build a winning team around. His faith in Schumacher was to prove well founded exactly a year later, at the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix. In qualifying, Schumacher could only manage 3rd in his Benetton-Ford B192. Nigel Mansell was on pole in the Williams-Renault FW14B, which had been utterly dominant all season. Ayrton Senna, the reigning World Champion, was second in the McLaren Honda. On Lap 30 of the 44 lap race, Schumacher made an inspired decision to pit and switch to slicks on a drying track, which gave him a massive advantage over the race leaders who were still on wets. Schumacher took the lead and went on to win his first Grand Prix, becoming the first German driver to win an F1 race since Jochen Mass’s win at the Spanish Grand Prix of 1975.
Michael Schumacher won his first World Championship title in 1994, at the final race of the season in Adelaide, in less than ideal circumstances, in a season marred by the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, and allegations of Benetton cheating through the use of illegal launch control, traction control and refueling systems.
The 1994 season started extremely well for Schumacher, who won six of the first seven races, only missing out on victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, where he put in a superlative performance to place second in a car stuck in 5th gear for most of the race, even through the pit stops. At the British Grand Prix, he was given a 5 second stop-go penalty for passing polesitter Damon Hill during the parade lap. On the instructions of his team, he did not serve penalty within three laps required by the regulations, for which he was black flagged. Schumacher was also handed a two race ban for this infraction, which he would serve during the Italian Grand Prix and the Portuguese Grand Prix. Schumacher also won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, but was disqualified after the wooden plank under the car was found to have over 10% wear during post-race scrutineering.
This brought the total number of races from which Schumacher was excluded during the 1994 F1 season to 4. Despite having been excluded from 4 races during the season, Schumacher arrived at the final race in Adelaide with a single point lead over title rival, Damon Hill. Much has been said and written about the incident that occurred during this race, and it is an incident that many Schumacher detractors are keen to highlight. While leading the race, Schumacher made an error, hitting a barrier and damaging his car. He then continued on track, colliding with Hill’s car, while being passed by Hill.
However, the FIA Stewards saw no infraction of any regulation, with regards to this incident, and Michael Schumacher was declared the Formula 1 World Champion of 1994. In the post-race press conference, Schumacher dedicated his championship to Ayrton Senna, stating “for me it was always clear that I not going to win the Championship, and that it’s Ayrton that is going to win the Championship, but he hasn’t been there for the last races, and I’d like to take this Championship, and give it to him.” Michael Schumacher successfully defended his World Championship title in 1995 with a dominant performance that saw him win 9 of the 17 races in the calendar, equaling the record set by Nigel Mansell with the incredible Williams-Renault FW14B in 1992. Schumacher’s 102 points haul also helped to secure the 1995 Constructors Championship title for his team Benetton, despite the two Williams drivers, Damon Hill and David Coulthard, putting in strong performances throughout the season.
In the early 1990’s, Ferrari languished in the midfield, comprehensively outclassed by McLaren, Williams and Benetton, only managing to win 2 races in the 5 years prior to the 1996 season. During the 1995 season, Schumacher made no secret that he was eager for a new challenge and that he was in talks with other teams with regards to the 1996 season, adding that “Ferrari would be a very nice situation to drive in…”
Ferrari, having last won the World Championship in 1979, was very serious about returning to the top of Formula 1, and offered Schumacher a two year deal worth a reported US$ 60 million. As a part of this deal with Ferrari, Schumacher was given the authority to recruit anyone he wanted to the team, in order to improve performance. This allowed Ross Brawn to follow Schumacher to Ferrari, and Rory Byrne was also convinced to shelve his retirement plans to take up the role of Chief Designer at Ferrari. This strategy of effectively giving Schumacher management level control at Ferrari was to prove extremely successful, leading to one of the most dominant teams the sport has ever seen.
Schumacher won 3 races in the 1996 F1 season, most notable of which was his superlative performance at the rain-soaked Spanish Grand Prix. Having qualified in 3rd behind the dominant Williams-Renault cars, Schumacher had a poor start due to issues with his clutch, which dropped him down to 6th. In the early stages of the race, all cars were lapping several seconds off the pace due to the torrential rain, and there were several incidents due to the terrible conditions.
Schumacher kept his Ferrari on track and made several excellent passes to secure the lead relatively early in the race, and seemed to be in a different league to the other drivers, on occasion lapping several seconds faster than everyone else on track. By Lap 20 of the 65 lap race, half of the field had retired, crashed, or spun out due to the conditions, and Schumacher was in a class of his own, quite literally miles ahead of everyone else. Schumacher finished the race a full 45 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, have lapped everyone except for Jean Alesi who was second, and Jacques Villeneuve who was third.
The 1996 Formula 1 season saw Damon Hill win the World Championship, having won 8 of the 16 races in the Williams powered by the almighty Renault powerplant, with Michael Schumacher finishing 3rd in the Championship standings.
1997 would be a year to forget, for Michael Schumacher. The Williams-Renault was once again the car to beat, and as had come to be expected, Schumacher outperformed his car, won 5 races, and somehow arrived at the season finale at Jerez as a title contender. Qualifying produced a statistically improbable result, with both Williams-Renault cars and Schumacher’s Ferrari registering identical times, to a thousandth of a second. Grid positions were allocated in accordance with the order in which the times were set, with Villeneuve being given pole, Schumacher second, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen starting on the second row.
At the race start, Schumacher made an excellent getaway, and was leading the grand prix at the first corner, maintaining his lead even through the stops. On lap 48, Villeneuve attempted to pass Schumacher on the inside of the Dry Sack corner, to which Schumacher responded by turning into him. Schumacher’s Ferrari was thrown into the gravel trap by the impact, and although the engine was clearly not stalled after the crash, he exited his car shortly after afterwards and retired. Villeneuve continued, although he allowed the two Mclarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard to pass him on the final lap, stating that he did so because the battery mountings on his car had been damaged in the collision, slowing his car. Years later, David Coulthard admitted that there had been a deal between Ron Dennis, the McLaren boss, and Frank Williams, the Williams boss, that the McLarens would be allowed to win if they assisted Williams against Ferrari in the race for the Championship.
Although the incident was initially dismissed by the stewards as a racing incident, many highly respected F1 pundits, including Schumacher’s former teammate Martin Brundle, were convinced that Schumacher had deliberately rammed Villeneuve. A subsequent FIA inquiry found Schumacher guilty, and he was disqualified from the 1997 F1 World Championship. Schumacher conceded that he had made a mistake, but always denied that he deliberately caused the accident.
Schumacher was widely condemned for the incident, not even being spared by the German or Italian media. Some British journalists triumphantly used the incident as “proof” that Schumacher had cheated in Adelaide 3 years earlier, when he denied Damon Hill the championship with a collision.
Finishing 3rd in this race was sufficient for Jacques Villeneuve to win the 1997 World Championship in the incredible Williams-Renault FW 19. However, despite remaining in F1 for many years following this race at Jerez, Jacques Villeneuve would never qualify on pole, set a fastest lap or win a race ever again.
The 1998 F1 Season got underway in Melbourne with the McLaren drivers Hakkinen and Coulthard finishing first and second, just as they had done so in the 1997 season finale. Although there was some controversy surrounding the McLaren 1-2 in Jerez, which was incidentally Hakkinen’s first F1 win, no favours were sought by McLaren for their 1-2 at the 1998 season opener: the Mercedes powered, Bridgestone shod McLarens completely dominated the field all weekend. Michael Schumacher started the race in third, the best of the rest behind the dominant McLaren’s, but retired early on due to engine failure. Reigning world champion Jacques Villeneuve was lapped during the race, which would set the tone for the remainder of his F1 career.
At the second round in Brazil, McLaren continued to dominate, coming home for a 3rd consecutive Hakkinen/DC 1-2, with Schumacher taking the remaining place on the podium. McLaren went into the third race in Argentina as favorites, with Hakkinen even going on record saying it would take a miracle for anyone to beat the McLarens. Although Schumacher managed to split the two McLaren and qualify in P2, he had a poor start and was passed at the start by Hakkinen, who had only managed third in qualifying. However, Schumacher put in a tremendous drive to pass both McLarens on track, take the win, and bring himself back into contention for the title fight.
Schumacher wasn’t able to win another race till the 7th round of the Championship in Canada, when Ferrari had a bit of a resurgence, and was able to win 3 races on the trot. The title fight again went down to the wire, with both Schumacher and Hakkinen both in contention at the season finale at Japan. Schumacher arrived at Japan with a 4 point advantage over Hakkinen, and things began to look good for Ferrari on Saturday, with Schumacher securing pole. Sunday was a disaster, however, with Schumacher stalling on the formation lap, then retiring due to a puncture.
Formula 1 had a new World Champion for 1998 in Mika Hakkinen. The Schumacher-Hakkinen rivalry was one of the greatest rivalries that we have seen in Formula 1, one that never really turned ugly or acrimonious – it was always clear that Hakkinen and “the Michael” respected each other. Schumacher was frequently complimentary of Hakkinen, once saying “Mika Hakkinen was the best opponent in terms of his quality, but the biggest admiration I had for him was we had 100% fight on track but a totally disciplined life off track. We respected each other highly and let each other live quietly.”
Schumacher wasn’t really in contention for the title in 1999. Having won two races early on in the season, he had a massive accident at Silverstone, in which he suffered a broken leg. He made a return to racing for the last two rounds of the season, amidst questions being raised throughout the paddock and press with regards to his potential pace following his return from injury. He silenced all doubters by taking a commanding pole, on his return, posting a time almost a full second ahead of teammate Eddie Irvine, who still had a mathematical chance of winning the championship. In the race, Schumacher allowed Irvine past and proceeded to play rear gunner to Irvine by slowing down Mika Hakinnen, Irvine’s title rival. McLaren even tried to get Hakkinen ahead of Schumacher’s Ferrari by short-fuelling him, but Schumacher was too fast. Ferrari scored a 1-2 finish, which meant that Irvine went into the title deciding season finale with a 4 point lead over Hakkinen in the championship.
At the season finale, Schumacher put his Ferrari on pole over Mika Hakkinen, but was passed at the start of the race by Hakkinen, who never looked back. Mika Hakkinen won the Japanese Grand Prix comfortably, defending his title to become the Formula 1 World Champion for 1999 as well.
Ferrari won the Constructors Championship in 1999, which marked the start of a period of utter dominance for the Maranello squad, which would see them win 6 Constructors World Championship and 5 Drivers World Championship titles on the trot, and write superstar driver Michael Schumacher into the history books. The team was essentially built around Michael Schumacher, with the technical success down to the incredible team assembled by Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo and Team Principal Jean Todt, headed by Ross Brawn, Paolo Martinelli, Rory Byrne, Also Costa and Nikolas Tombazis. Another key factor in the ensuing years of Ferrari dominance was their special partnership with Bridgestone, with the Japanese manufacturer optimizing their tires to suit Ferrari for most of this period.
Reigning World Champion Mika Hakkinen ran Schumacher close in the 2000 Formula season, but Schumacher won the Drivers Championship with a commanding win at Suzuka at the penultimate round of the championship, becoming the first Ferrari World Champion since 1979. Schumacher also helped secure the Constructors Championship win for Ferrari with another win at the season finale in Malaysia.
Schumacher won the 2001 World Championship easily, in a season which saw two brothers finish 1-2 in an F1 race for the first time when Ralf lead Michael to the chequered flag at the Canadian Grand Prix.
The 2002 Formula 1 Season was a year of complete dominance for Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Schumacher won 11 races, scored 144 points, was on the podium at every race, and completely rewrote the F1 record books. Ferrari also won the Constructors Championship with ease, Schumacher and Barrichello’s incredible 221 points haul being higher than the total number of points scored by the rest of the field combined.
The 2003 Formula 1 Season was a lot more competitive than the preceding season, with 8 different race winners over the 16 race season, including Giancarlo Fisichella, who scored an unlikely win for Jordan-Ford at the red-flagged Brazilian Grand Prix. Schumacher won a commanding 6 races in 2003, but won the World Championship with a margin of just two points over title rival Kimi Raikkonen, who might just have won his maiden championship, but for a couple of retirements due to first lap collisions and Raikkonen’s Mercedes engine blowing up at the Nurburgring, where he had been peerless all weekend. This win made Micheal Schumacher the first ever 6 time World Champion in the history of Formula 1.
Ferrari also managed to secure the Constructors Championship for 2003 over Williams, who were unable to capitalize on being powered by the incredible BMW P83 Powerplant, the most powerful engine on the grid by some margin, and their super-aggressive Colombian driver, Juan Pablo Montoya. The 2004 Formula 1 Season saw Schumacher and Ferrari return to utter dominance, with Schumacher winning an incredible 13 races, and Ferrari winning a total of 15 out of the 18 races that season. In pre-season testing with the F2004 car, Schumacher began to put in lap timings that were over two seconds faster than the best timings ever recorded in the F2003 GA car from the previous year. The Ferrari engineers immediately disregarded the timings, suspecting that the car was somehow underweight or that there were errors in the timekeeping systems. Schumacher, who had been driving the car, disagreed with the engineers and insisted that the pace was real, and that the F2004 was actually that much faster than the F2003GA. He was right, of course, and the F2004 is widely regarded as one of the greatest F1 cars ever built.
Once the Ferrari management realized the true potential of the F2004, they demanded total dominance from the team, the drivers, and tire partners Bridgestone. 2004 would be a season to be remembered. Just 3 races would be won by drivers from other teams that year, with Jarno Trulli converting a superb pole into a win at Monaco, Raikkonen putting in an impressive performance at Spa, and Montoya winning the season finale at Suzuka.
However, the continued development of the F2004, long after the Drivers and Constructors Championships had been secured, meant that less time was spent on the development of the F2005. The 2005 Ferrari was not a strong car, and brought to an end one of the most remarkable periods of domination seen in F1 up to that point. 2005 belonged to the two young guns and future Ferrari drivers, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Schumacher did win one race in 2005, but under the most embarrassing circumstances possible, at the infamous US Grand Prix where all 14 cars running Michelin tires retired after the formation lap.
2006 saw something of a return to form for Ferrari, and Schumacher was able to win a very creditable 7 races, the same as Championship winner Fernando Alonso, although consistency favoured the Spaniard.
The 2006 Monaco Grand Prix is also a favourite talking point of Schumacher detractors, following the unfortunate incident at the La Rascasse corner in qualifying, where Schumacher, on provisional pole, was ruled to have “parked” his car in an unsporting manner to prevent Alonso and others from being able to better his timing. He was demoted to the back of the grid, and Alonso, who had been provisionally second, was awarded pole. Schumacher’s critics were scathing in their attacks on him. Keke Rosberg, 5 time Grand Prix winner and 1982 F1 Champion, said it was the “cheapest, dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen in Formula 1. He (Schumacher) should leave Formula 1 and go home.” Despite the intense criticisms from all quarters, Michael Schumacher put in one his finest ever performances in an F1 car, starting at the back of the grid but working his way through the field on the narrow street circuit of the Principality where overtaking is all but impossible, to finish in 5th place, and also set the fastest lap of the race.
One of Schumacher’s best wins of 2006 came at Ferrari’s home race at Monza, to the jubilation of the tifosi. After his superb on track performance, a very emotional Schumacher appeared on the Podium above the racetrack, together with Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, who had just made his first podium in F1. Throughout the early part of the 2006 season, it was widely accepted in the Formula 1 paddock that Ferrari would be signing the incredibly quick Finn, Kimi Raikkonen, for the 2007 season. For a while, there was speculation that Philip Morris was keen to bankroll a Schumacher-Raikkonen super team for Ferrari, but sadly, this did not come to fruition, and Schumacher announced his decision to retire from F1 at the Monza post-race press conference.
Schumacher’s final appearance for Scuderia Ferrari was at the 2006 season finale at Interlagos, Brazil. The BMW Sauber team paid a touching tribute to the retiring German ace by running the slogans “Thank you Michael”and “Danke Michael” on the rear wings of their two cars during Friday Practice. Schumacher was also presented a Lifetime Achievement award by the Brazilian football legend, Pele.
Issues with his Ferrari engine during the final qualifying session meant that Schumacher would start the race in P10. He quickly made up places during the early stages of the race, but contact with the front wing of Fisichella’s Renault during a passing maneuver left Schumacher’s Ferrari with a left rear puncture. Although he managed to get his car back to the pits, Schumacher rejoined the race after the incident in 19th place, almost a full lap behind the front running cars. He then commenced an incredible charge through the field, in a raw display of the talent and sheer will that had brought him 7 Championship titles. Raikkonen did his utmost to hold off Schumacher’s charge to the front of the field, but interestingly, the BMW Sauber’s did little to impede his progress as he came past, with Kubica even ceding the racing line to Schumacher while being passed. Schumacher finished what was to be his final race appearance in an F1 car in 4th place.
The Mercedes marque returned to F1 in 2010, announcing an all-German driver lineup for the 2010 season, Nico Rosberg and 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher, who was coming out of retirement to drive for the Silver Arrows on their return to F1. The team was in effect the defending Constructors World Champion team, having come into existence via the re-branding of the Brawn GP team which won the 2009 Constructors Championship, as well as the 2009 Drivers Championship with Jenson Button. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was keen to bring in his longtime associate Schumacher, for his performance as well as for his superlative skills as a developmental driver.
Despite the extremely high expectations surrounding his return to racing, Schumacher’s return to F1 was less than successful, netting just one podium in 3 seasons, although he did occasionally display flashes of brilliance reminiscent of the stellar form he had shown in his earlier years. Schumacher contributed immensely to the development of the Mercedes team in their fledgling years, on the technical front as a developmental driver, as well as helping to convince Mercedes to put in the massive investment required to make the team a truly front running team. There is no doubt that Schumacher’s efforts helped turn Mercedes into the absolutely dominant team that it is today.
Although he is a somewhat polarizing figure in F1, Schumacher’s records speak for themselves, and he will always be regarded as one of the greatest ever drivers to grace the sport. Although he wasn’t always perfect, he was always loved by his team and his mechanics, and his legions of fans across the world. Schumacher.