Knowing Michael Schumacher: cracking the Enigma Code

Hero, villain or nice guy? As the F1 giant is deposed in the record books by Lewis Hamilton, Mark Hughes assembles an all-star cast to discuss Michael Schumacher’s machine-like technique and uncover the real person behind the mask

Michael Schumacher in Benetton race suit

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Michael Schumacher is a complex subject. But perhaps quite a simple man. The F1 colossus who broke all the records that are only now being challenged by Lewis Hamilton was a perplexing fusion of supreme talent and insecurity, of great integrity and occasional on-track thuggery. Of humility and apparent arrogance.

Anyone who knew him well tells of a simple, good-hearted soul. It was visible sometimes when the guard came down for a few seconds; the smiling, fun-loving, normal man. “What do you think you would have been”, I asked him once, “if you’d not made it in racing?” “A mechanic, probably,” he replied immediately, “and very happy to be one.” A family man rather than a hellraiser, a blue-collar worker rather than an aspiring world leader (which is something that’s quite easy to imagine of a post-F1 Ayrton Senna, for example).

The challenges of such a man in dealing with the consequences of his immense talent – and possibly with the psychological effects of the circumstances around his childhood racing exploits – made for an extreme racing persona, the one associated with the questionable on-track moves. There was something within that persona that defined the result, the outcome, as everything: success or failure. Regardless – if it came to it – of how it was achieved. The will to prevail was extreme, skewed even, in a similar way to Senna’s before him. These are complex personas in an extreme environment, such that we really need the equivalent of 3D glasses to capture them in their full complexity. It’s that complexity which, in an era of racing where the car could be used as a weapon of intimidation, took them to territory out of reach to the mortals around them. But it comes at a cost.