Michael Schumacher

Seven Formula 1 World Championships, 91 Grand Prix victories and 68 pole positions are the headline statistics behind the record-breaking career of Michael Schumacher. Competitive to the point of ruthlessness, the controversies that accompanied his success at times divided opinion like few others although the records he set during a decade as the sport’s leading light may never be beaten.

Given a kart by his parents when four years old, Schumacher was soon impressing at the local karting track at Kerpen. His father, a bricklayer by trade, began repairing karts to help support the fledgling career of his oldest son. Initial karting success included finishing as runner-up in the 1985 Junior World Cup at Le Mans, beaten by defending champion Andrea Gilardi with Allan McNish third. He then benefited from a last-lap clash between leaders Alex Zanardi and Massimiliano Orsini to snatch the Intercontinental A title in 1987.

Schumacher began working as a mechanic as he switched to cars in 1988 – winning that year’s inaugural Formula Konig single-seater series. That success achieved, Schumacher spent the rest of the season in Formula Ford 1600 with Eufra’s Van Diemen RF88 – finishing as runner-up to Mika Salo in the European standings.

With Jochen Mass already monitoring his progress, Schumacher graduated to Willi Weber’s Formula 3 WTS Racing Team in 1989. His Reynard 893-Volkswagen won twice that year as he finished third overall – eventually eclipsed by Karl Wendlinger and Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

His second season with the team delivered the 1990 German F3 Championship and victory in the prestigious Macau GP but both were achieved amid controversy. Schumacher collided with rival Otto Rensing as he clinched the national title at the Nurburgring although Rensing was later censured for a series of incidents during that race. Mika Hakkinen made a last-lap pass for the lead of Macau’s second heat (something he did not need to risk for the overall victory) and the future rivals touched. Hakkinen crashed into the barrier with Schumacher continuing on to victory. It would not be the last time Schumacher would claim an important success with his rival in the barriers. Schumacher was also a Mercedes-Benz junior driver that year as he, Wendlinger and Frentzen took turns to share a C11 sports car with Mass in selected World Championship events. Mass and Schumacher scored successive second-place finishes at Dijon-Prenois and the Nurburgring before winning the final round in Mexico.

From the archive

Schumacher remained with the Mercedes Group C team in 1991 – finishing second at Silverstone and emerging as the star of that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. He led after two hours and set a series of fastest race laps during the night. However, gearbox gremlins and overheating eventually restricted the Schumacher/Wendlinger/Kreutzpointner C11 to fifth overall at the finish. Jordan Grand Prix gave Schumacher his F1 debut at Spa-Francorchamps that year as replacement for the temporarily jailed Bertrand Gachot. The German started an impressive seventh on the grid (ahead of experienced team-mate Andrea de Cesaris) and was immediately poached by Flavio Briatore and Benetton Formula. Three points’ scores followed included fifth next time out in Monza and Schumacher ended the season as the sport’s most coveted talent.

Consistently in the top four during the first half of 1992, Schumacher finished second in Spain and Canada. That rich promise was confirmed when it rained at Spa-Francorchamps – Schumacher making the most of changeable conditions and Nigel Mansell’s delayed pitstop to win for the first time. Remarkably consistent during his first full F1 season, Schumacher always qualified in the top six, scored eight podium finishes and was third in the World Championship.

Benetton-Ford and Schumacher suffered reliability issues during 1993 but the German enhanced his reputation as F1’s next superstar. In a year dominated by Williams and Ayrton Senna’s virtuosity, Schumacher finished fourth overall after scoring a fine victory in Portugal – beating World Champion Alain Prost in a straight fight.

New Williams-Renault recruit Senna was clear pre-season favourites in 1994 but it was Schumacher’s Benetton B194-Ford that won the opening two races. However this was not to be the beginning of one of the sport’s great rivalries for Senna was killed when he crashed during the opening laps of the San Marino GP at Imola. Schumacher continued to dominate – winning four of the next five GPs and only denied in Spain when his car was stuck in fifth gear. Despite that handicap, Schumacher still managed to finish second behind Damon Hill’s Williams-Renault. However, his seemingly inexorable march to the title came with rumours of illegal traction control and disqualification at Silverstone after ignoring a black flag. Schumacher was banned from the next two races as a consequence. He won in Hungary and at Jerez but lost another victory in the Belgian GP due to an illegal skid-block. That allowed Hill to close to within a point before the final race in Australia and the Englishman attempted to pass and snatch the world title. Their cars collided to confirm Schumacher as World Champion for the first time although the manner of that success drew criticism.

Benetton switched to Renault engines in 1995 and Schumacher proved even more competitive. His nine victories equalled Nigel Mansell’s existing record for wins in a season although there was an increasingly tetchy rivalry with Hill – the pair colliding at Silverstone and Monza to hand victory to Benetton team-mate Johnny Herbert on both occasions. There were days when Schumacher was simply on another level to his rivals – especially at Spa-Francorchamps where he came from 16th on the grid after a disrupted qualifying to score an unlikely victory. Schumacher clinched a second title with two races to go but had already accepted Ferrari’s lucrative offer for 1996.

Ferrari had not won the drivers’ title since 1979 and Schumacher set about rebuilding the Scuderia’s fortunes. He scored a memorable first victory in the (very) wet Spanish GP and back-to-back successes followed in Belgium and, in front of the Tifosi, in Italy. Schumacher finished the year third in the points.

Ross Brawn, who had masterminded Schumacher’s successful Benetton years, joined Ferrari as Technical Director in 1997 and the German challenged Jacques Villeneuve for the title. Despite a clear performance deficit to the French-Canadian’s Williams FW19-Renault, Schumacher won five times to enter the final round at Jerez with the championship lead. But when Villeneuve passed Schumacher for the lead that would deliver the title, the German simply drove into his rival in an unsuccessful and cynical attempt to steal the World Championship. Villeneuve managed to restart, finish third and therefore win the title. The FIA subsequently stripped Schumacher of that year’s points and second-place in the 1997 standings.

Judged lucky by some to escape a race ban at the beginning of 1998 due to his Jerez indiscretion, Schumacher challenged McLaren-Mercedes’s Mika Hakkinen for the title until the final round. He won six times and only lost in Belgium when he crashed into Hakkinen’s team-mate David Coulthard during the inevitable Ardennes downpour. An obviously incensed Schumacher then strode down the pitlane in an attempt to confront the Scot. In the event, Hakkinen clinched the world title when Schumacher stalled at the start of the final round in Japan – the German officially finishing as runner-up for the first time.

Schumacher won successive races at Imola and Monaco at the start of 1999 but hopes of ending Ferrari’s title drought evaporated at the start of the British GP. He broke his right leg when he crashed at Stowe Corner and was absent for six races. When he returned it was to aid team-mate Eddie Irvine’s ultimately unsuccessful title challenge.

The ability to galvanise a team is one of the unquantifiable qualities of the truly great racing drivers, something that Schumacher had displayed during his first four years with Ferrari. Denied the ultimate prize so far, there was no denying him in 2000. Schumacher won the opening three GPs and again at the Nurburgring and Montreal to establish the points lead. Four retirements in five races and Hakkinen’s return to form threatened to derail his campaign but Schumacher clinched a third world title by winning the last four races of the season – in the process equalling his own record of nine victories in a season.

It was as if Ferrari’s first drivers’ title for 21 years uncorked the bottle for Ferrari were now F1’s dominant team once more. Schumacher matched those nine GP victories in 2001 and brushed David Coulthard’s early challenge aside to retain the title with four races to go by winning in Hungary. That equalled Alain Prost’s record for most GP victories and Schumacher established a new record in the next race at Spa-Francorchamps. He was the first Ferrari driver to retain the World Championship since 1953.

Hard to imagine before the season but Schumacher and Ferrari were even more dominant in 2002. He qualified and finished in the top three all season and won 11 of the 17 championship rounds to establish a new record for wins in a season. The Ferrari F2002 was so dominant that Schumacher was already confirmed as F1’s second five-time champion (matching Fangio’s long-standing record) in mid-July. Despite their advantage, Ferrari management asked Rubens Barrichello to cede victory of the Austrian GP on a rare weekend when the Brazilian had outperformed his team-mate. That prompted booing from the crowd and fierce criticism in the press. The resentment towards Ferrari was only enhanced by the contrived “photo” finish in the United States GP – Barrichello 0.011 seconds ahead as they crossed the line in formation.

Thankfully, Ferrari faced a challenge in 2003 and the championship destination remained in doubt for much of the season. F1 was in the midst of a fierce “tyre war” at the time with the Michelin-shod Williams-BMW, McLaren-Mercedes-Benz and Renault teams lining up against Ferrari and Bridgestone. Schumacher was lapped in Hungary and his title appeared to be slipping away. However, the FIA made a rule clarification that required Michelin to modify its tyre construction, compromising their competitiveness as a consequence. That allowed Schumacher to clinch his sixth title at the final round – two points ahead of McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Any thought that the wave of Ferrari domination was over was soon dispelled in 2004. Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 GPs that year – only losing in Monaco when he broke his suspension in a tangle with Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams-BMW. He clinched his seventh World Championship title at the Belgian GP and added a 13th victory that season in Japan.

After five years of domination, Schumacher’s unbroken reign was finally brought to an end by Renault and the 24 year old Fernando Alonso in 2005. The German’s only victory was the shameful United States GP at Indianapolis where he beat just five other cars after the Michelin runners were forced to withdraw on safety grounds. Schumacher finished third in the championship as Alonso more than doubled his score.

Alonso successfully defended his title in 2006 but Schumacher showed he remained as competitive as ever by winning seven times – including his record 91st GP victory in China. There was a less savoury moment when Schumacher blocked the track during qualifying at Monaco to stop anyone challenging his pole position. He may have denied intent but the stewards did not agree and they sent him to the back of the grid as punishment. Now 37 years old and with Raikkonen already Ferrari-bound, Schumacher announced his retirement at an emotionally charged Monza press conference.

He worked as consultant for Ferrari but his competitive instincts remained undiminished. He raced motorcycles for pleasure but injured his neck in an accident at Cartagena while testing before the 2009 season. That prevented him from making a much anticipated F1 comeback later that year as the injured Felipe Massa’s replacement at Ferrari.

Related article

Not to be denied his return, Schumacher signed a three-year contract to race for the newly acquired Mercedes-Benz team from 2010. The Brackley-based concern had just won the World Championship as Brawn Grand Prix and Schumacher was paired with Nico Rosberg in an all-German driver line-up. However, he was unable to match his younger team-mate and could finish no higher than fourth in Spain, Turkey and Korea after a season in the midfield – unheard of territory for F1’s most decorated star. Unfortunately, the most tangible glimpse of his former driving style showed his ruthless side – nearly driving former team-mate Barrichello into the pitwall as they diced in Hungary. He was also lucky to escape injury when Vitantonio Liuzzi’s Force India crashed over his cockpit on the opening lap in Abu Dhabi.

Minor incidents with other cars continued in 2011 but there were also some signs of improvement. He challenged in Canada before finishing fourth and led in Japan thanks to running a different strategy to the regular front runners.

Tellingly however, when the fates conspired to deliver Mercedes the winning hand at the 2012 Chinese GP it was Rosberg who took advantage. Schumacher qualified on the front row that day and would have started from pole position in Monaco but for a grid penalty. Third in Valencia was to be the only podium of his comeback and Schumacher retired for a second time at the end of the season.

Schumacher then guided his son’s karting career but he suffered serious head injuries in a skiing accident while wintering in the French Alps on 29 December 2013. He remained in a coma in hospital in Grenoble before being transferred to Lausanne’s University Hospital six months later. No longer listed as in a coma but with long-term prognosis not publicised, he returned to his nearby home where he continues his slow rehabilitation out of the public glare.

Non Championship Races