I'm a 21-year-old student of Modern History and German at Hertford College, Oxford, currently living in Bonn, Germany. I've just rediscovered Ciao after a long absence and would welcome any comments on my latest review!
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The fastest man on four wheels
Very fast and skilled
Can be seen as arrogant
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Can’t believe I haven’t come across this category before! Formula 1 has always been one of my favourite sports, with its high-speed action, technological wizardly and the enigmatic drivers and team bosses. As for Schumacher, or ‘Schuey’ as he’s affectionately known, I’ve been following him ever since he started out in the sport in 1991, when I was four. I still support him with a passion today.
Michael Schumacher was born in a small German town on the 3rd January, 1969. From an early age he had an interest in cars and in motor racing. Driven by his father, at the age of four Michael drove his first go-kart. Michael had a long wait before he could drive in a real go-kart competition, as German rules stated that he had to be 14 to obtain a go-kart license. In 1983 Michael finally obtained he German go-kart license. From there he took to it like a duck to water, winning the German karting championship the following year and enjoying great success over the coming years. Once he came to age it was inevitable that Michael take the next step up – Formula 3.
Formula 3’s a bit like Formula 1, with some differences. Apart from being much less well-known, the cars are more similar, less powerful and less adorned with multinational sponsorship. F3 was the perfect ground for the young Michael to hone his skills. Also in F3 Michael met Willi Weber, who still manages him and his brother to this day. Michael came third in the Formula 3 Championship in 1989.
It was somewhat traditional for Formula 3 drivers to make the jump up to Formula 3000, and from there to Formula 1. However, Michael shunned this route, moving to sportscars on the advice of his manager who felt the experience would be beneficial to the young star. Michael drove sportscars with some success during 1990 and 1991. In the latter year he came under the watchful observation of Eddie Jordan, owner of the Jordan Formula One Team. It was obvious that Michael had some talent – it was only a matter of time before he broke into motorsport’s elite division, Formula 1. Then, before the Belgian F1 Grand Prix of 1991, Jordan’s usual driver Bertrand Gachot was jailed for an assault on a taxi driver. Gachot was never seen again, but Michael had got his break. Eddie took Michael on on a race-by-race agreement, with a view to a permanent deal.
Unfortunately Michael hardly made the most of his opportunity. Although he started the race in seventh position, he never made
it through the first lap due to burning his clutch out. Nevertheless, Jordan was impressed with his performance. Wanting to hold on to this future talent, Jordan offered Michael a race deal.
This was not to be, however. Michael’s manager Willi Weber, concerned about Michael’s future in the sport, pointed out that the Jordan team was likely to be uncompetitive in the following seasons due to a lack of engine power. In the end he was to be proved right. Fortunately for Michael, Jordan was not the only boss who had been keeping a watchful eye on him, and after his refusal of the Jordan deal he was snapped up for the remainder of the season by the Benetton team. Michael gained valuable experience, partnering the vastly experienced Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet. Although race results were not immediately forthcoming, Benetton held on to Michael for the 1992 season.
It was to prove the right decision. This time partnering Martin Brundle, Michael drove with a skill and maturity beyond his years, being denied victories several times by mechanical failures. It was at the Belgian Grand Prix near the end of the season that Michael finally won his first race.
Michael drove for Benetton again in 1993, this time partnering Riccardo Patrese, an old hand in F1 and still the most experienced F1 driver ever. He won one race in 1993, in Portugal. This was just a taste of what was to come.
Once more, Michael drove for the Benetton team in 1994. In a year overshadowed by the tragic death of the great Ayrton Senna, I don’t think it can be said that Michael took advantage of Ayrton’s death, but how successful Michael would have been had Senna still been around is open to debate. As it was, Michael’s 1994 season was eventful, with several run-ins with the FIA, the sport’s governing body, which resulted in him being disqualified for four races of the season. The last race of the season was controversial. Michael came into the race one championship point ahead of Damon Hill, which meant that whoever won the race would take the crown. Halfway through the race, Michael made an uncharacteristic mistake, running off the track and hitting a wall. His car damaged, Michael crept back onto the track. As Hill rounded the corner, Michael’s car hit Hill, damaging Hill’s car. Both drivers were out of the race, and Michael won the championship. Michael still maintains that this act wasn’t deliberate, although there were always plenty of doubters.
The 1995 season was much less controversial. Gaining Renault engines put the Benetton team on a technological parallel with Hill’s Williams team. Michael took full advantage, taking his second world title easily, although there were several collisions with Hill.
For 1996, Michael felt he needed a new challenge. The great Ferrari team, once a dominant force in the sport, had performed very poorly over the past few years. Michael took up the challenge of restoring the prancing horse to its past glory, signing for the team in 1996.
It was indeed to prove challenging. Ferrari’s 1996 car was extremely poor, and no match for the Williams of the eventual Championship winner Damon Hill. Despite this Michael managed to acquire three race wins, including an incredible drive in wet conditions to win the Spanish Grand Prix.
Despite taking the 1996 championship, Damon was sacked by Williams in 1997, in favour of the young Canadian upstart Jacques Villeneuve. Largely due to Michael’s influence, Ferrari’s 1997 car was much more competitive. After a closely contested season, Michael went into the final race in a familiar situation – he was one point ahead of Villeneuve. Again, the race winner would take the title.
The race was fraught with tension. From the beginning it looked like Michael was going to do it, until the middle of the race when he slowed down considerably, allowing Villeneuve to close in on him. Under braking for a tight corner, Villeneuve made an overtaking move. As he drew level, Michael turned his Ferrari into the Williams, in what was this time unmistakably a deliberate act. However, it didn’t work. Michael’s Ferrari hit the Williams in an unfavourable position, and merely bounced off the Canadian’s car into the gravel. Villeneuve took the championship, although not winning the race as he let the two McLaren cars pass him, eventually finishing third. Many fans felt that justice had been done – as one journal put it – ‘the biter had been bitten’. Meanwhile the F1 world was in uproar over Schuey’s act. A meeting of the sport’s governing body was called, and Schumacher was eventually stripped of his points and his 2nd place in the 1997 season. Few could argue.
Michael was never really competitive in the 1998 season. McLaren’s technical wizard Adrian Newey had produced a close-to-perfect car which left the competition far behind. However, Ferrari gained ground towards the end of the season, and Michael was able to win six races, although finishing a long way short of championship winner Mika Hakkinen.
The 1999 season started much more brightly for Michael. He had acquired a number of easy victories and was in a commanding position in the championship. However, the British Grand Prix was to change everything.
On the first lap of the race, it was stopped due to an on-track incident. Approaching a corner at 190mph, Michael suffered a catastrophic braking failure. The result was that the Ferrari simply skated off the circuit, ploughing across the gravel and crashing into a barrier at 130mph. Michael started to get out of his car, but was clearly in pain. An ambulance crew was called, and Michael was airlifted to hospital. By the end of the race, the diagnosis had filtered through; Michael had broken his leg in two places, and would be out of action for months.
Michael recovered quickly thanks to his huge fitness, rejoining the circuit for the final two races of the season. He dominated these with breathtaking ease, but the championship was now out of his reach, and he gifted the race victories to team-mate Eddie Irvine, embroiled in a fierce title fight with Mika Hakkinen, which he was eventually to lose. But Michael was back.
The 2000 season was a different story. The Ferrari team, no doubt affected by Michael’s influence, gave him a competitive car, which he duly drove to the title. Michael was to repeat the feat with even greater ease in 2001 and 2002, dominating the sport and bringing his total number of championships to five. One more and he would be the most successful driver ever, ahead of the great Juan Manuel Fangio. Can Michael do it in 2003?
I certainly hope so. I think Michael is an amazing driver who fully deserves the record. The passion he has for the sport is unmatched. Now he has his wife, Corinna, and his two children, it would be so easy for him to sit back and relax. But that’s not Michael – he has an amazing level of commitment. He’s single-handedly turned the Ferrari team into a potent force in the last seven years. Of course his doubters will bring up those controversies in 1994 and 1997, but in my mind these are just a mark of his determination to succeed at all costs.
So far, 2003 doesn’t look promising. Michael’s made some unusual mistakes, denying him points in the first few races. But never, ever rule out the great Michael Schumacher.
Thanks for the read, Matt (who thinks he’s a bit too addicted to F1 as he wrote that op off the top of his head!)
I've been an avid fan of F1 since I was 9 (1996), I first saw Schuey in the under-performing Ferrari when he won in a monsoon of Spain, and I've been a massive fan of his ever since. That was an excellent op but concerning Gachot, I thought he went back to Jordan after he was released from jail and was racing for Pacific in 1995. :) tom