With Michael Schumacher fresh from his final Formula One appearance it may be difficult to imagine the man that has come to define much of the last two decades will no longer be a feature of the global circus. In nineteen seasons of competition, the first driver ever to take a World Championship for Germany started 307 Grand Prix, won 91 of them and set a record 7 titles. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the hero from Hürth who sustained broken legs, the loss of his mother and the wrath of the stewards many a weekend in his quest for greatness. Michael has had dark days, not least of which during his 2010-2012 comeback for which he received a great deal of derision and criticism. Before that though, with ‘Michael.1’ there were countless incredible, jaw-dropping performances that remind us just how good he was in his heyday.
This then is the roundup of the ‘famous five’ moments of the Michael Schumacher that forged the modern era. The drivers on the grid today are, in many ways, cast in his image; the fitness of Jenson Button, the ultra-competitive instinct of Fernando Alonso and the ruthless desire to win of Sebastian Vettel are all direct nods to, statistically speaking, the greatest driver of all time.
‘Schumi’s’ greatest days…
Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, August 30 1992
After his startling debut performance that made established names such as Mansell, Prost, Piquet and Senna sit up and take notice in Spa twelve months before, Schumacher returned to the famous circuit in the Ardennes mountains to notch up his first ever Grand Prix victory. In a Benetton-Ford car vastly inferior to the dominant Williams, the young German beat newly-crowned World Champion Nigel Mansell and the legendary Ayrton Senna, making himself one of the youngest Grand Prix winners of all time.
Pacific Grand Prix, TI Circuit Aida Japan, October 22 1995
Following the controversy surrounding his first world title triumph in 1994, Michael made a clean breast of his 1995 campaign to overcome the challenge of Damon Hill and claim his second championship crown with two races still to be run before the end of the season. Contrary to the furore, anger and delight that surrounded his maiden championship triumph in Adelaide the previous year there was no doubt who deserved to win this time round.
Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, June 2 1996
For ’96 Schumi, as he was known to his legions of fans, left the all-conquering Benetton squad to join the ailing Ferrari camp. With just two victories in the last five seasons, the Italian marque was in disarray, yet at only his seventh race with the team Schumacher overcame treacherously wet conditions to claim an outstanding triumph, one that has gone down in motor-racing history and coined the legendary nickname ‘Rainmeister’ for the German star. Two-thirds of the drivers span-off, broke down or crashed through the course of the race but Schumacher led almost the entire distance in imperious form.
Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, August 29 2004
With six world championships under his belt, you might have thought Michael Schumacher had satisfied his thirst for success, especially after a hard-fought 2003 battle that saw him take the title by a single point from Kimi Raikkonen. But no. Michael, by now already the most successful F1 driver in history, returned in 2004 and destroyed the field with a devastating display of supremacy and thirteen race victories. Although Raikkonen won the race, Schumacher had done enough by finishing second to wrap up his seventh and final F1 World Championship. Truly his day of days…
Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, 1 October 2006
After trailing Spanish World Champion Fernando Alonso for much of the 2006 season, Schumacher proved he could take on his rivals on equal terms with a resounding victory in Shanghai that came just two weeks after his decision to retire at Monza. The win propelled him back into the title mix and left both himself and Alonso equal on points with just two Grand Prix remaining. Unfortunately for Michael, engine failure at the next race in Japan robbed him of the chance for that eighth championship and he had to be content with second best to Alonso, but China 2006 will always be remembered for the final Grand Prix victory of one of the true giants of the Formula One scene.
The downright ugly
British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 10 July 1994
Many motor-racing fans will remember the 1994 Australian GP as his greatest faux-pas, but there were indications of the arrogance and hot-headedness that dogged Schumacher’s time in F1 earlier that troubled season. At the British Grand Prix in July Schumacher ignored repeated black flag warnings after overtaking British hero Damon Hill on the parade lap, incredibly driving a full 60-lap race distance apparently failing to notice that he had been disqualified from the event. A $25,000 fine and the removal of his 2nd place finish at the race was Schumi’s punishment for the first of many misdemeanours that followed…
European Grand Prix, Jerez, October 26 1997
Michael Schumacher arrived at the final race of the 1997 season needing to finish ahead of Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve in order to secure the World Championship, and was ahead of the Canadian in the opening laps. With only twenty more remaining Villeneuve closed in on the German and attempted to overtake, only for Michael, in a move that smacked of desperation, to turn in on him in a failed attempt to push the Williams off the racetrack. He only succeeded in putting himself in the gravel trap and out of the race, with the title subsequently going to Villeneuve. Lamb-basted by the world media, Schumacher was stripped of his points and disqualified from the entire 1997 season. In the words of the ever dry-witted Martin Brundle ‘That didn’t work Michael. You hit the wrong part of him my friend.’
Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, August 30 1998
Six years on from his maiden victory, Schumacher was leading the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix in atrocious conditions when he smacked straight into the back of the Mclaren driven by David Coulthard that he was trying to lap. Able to hobble back to the pits, the furious Schumacher stormed down to the Mclaren pit area with the intention of thumping DC, but a couple of burly Mclaren mechanics got between them and denied the controversy-hungry press and public the incredible sight of two F1 drivers knocking lumps out of one another in the middle of a Grand Prix. Still regretted by some in the paddock today no doubt…
British Grand Prix, Silverstone, July 11 1999
The worst day of Schumi’s career? Starting the day equal on points with arch-rival Mika Hakkinen and looking to take the first Ferrari world championship in two decades, Michael was startled to find his Ferrari F310 totally out of control at the end of the 200mph hangar straight at the Silverstone circuit. Burying itself deep into the tyre wall, it became apparent all was not well when Schumi didn’t emerge from the shattered cockpit. The late Professor Sid Watkins and his medical team were soon on the scene to deliver the verdict – a broken leg that prevented him from contending the 1999 championship any further. He put that right with a superb title triumph in 2000 that heralded five unbroken years of dominance.
Hungarian Grand Prix, Budapest, August 1 2010
Only twelve races into his comeback season, Michael proved he wasn’t a changed man by squeezing old teammate Rubens Barrichello against the Budapest pit wall at almost 200mph. ‘That was horrible.’ claimed the shaken Brazilian over the radio in a masterly understatement, later accusing Schumacher of trying to ‘murder’ him. Once everyone concerned had calmed down the stewards sided with Barrichello and promptly slapped a ten-place grid penalty on Schumacher for the next race in Belgium. Spa has been the scene of many a good and bad moment for Schumacher. The story thus comes full-circle…
Schumacher in Numbers
Grand Prix starts: 307
Pole Positions: 68
Fastest Laps: 77
Career points: 1566