Michael Schumacher’s career is remarkable not only for the success he had, but for the way he went about achieving it.
Here are nine moments that defined one of the sport’s all-time great drivers.
Qualifying 7th on debut, Spa 1991
When Bertrand Gachot was imprisoned for assaulting a taxi driver before the Belgian Grand Prix, Jordan needed a replacement. That driver was Michael Schumacher, a highly rated young German who’d been successful in junior formulae and in sportscar racing.
He shocked the grid when he qualified a sensational 7th, four places ahead of his experienced team-mate Andrea de Cesaris. Unfortunately his inexperience with F1 cars led him to burn out his clutch at the start and he retired before the end of the first lap. Incredibly Andrea de Cesaris came close to winning the race – he was catching Senna when his engine blew up with three laps to go. Had Schumacher not retired, who knows where he might have finished?
Despite the issues his talent was obvious, and by the next race at Monza he’d been snapped up by Benetton.
Winning races at any cost, Spa 1995
Schumacher’s drive in the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix was incredible. He’d started 16th but brilliantly stayed on slicks during a rain shower to shoot up to the front, and then managed to prevent Damon Hill from passing him even though he was significantly faster. Hill’s challenge was ended when he had to serve a penalty for speeding in the pits, and Schumacher won the race.
Damon wasn’t happy about some of Schumacher’s driving tactics in the race though, claiming he’d been physically muscled off of the track at some of the high-speed corners. Schumacher thought a bit of contact was acceptable in the conditions but the stewards disagreed, and gave him a one-race suspended ban for overly-aggressive driving.
Dominant in the rain, Barcelona 1996
Michael was the undisputed number 1 driver in his teams for pretty much his whole career. That meant he had some advantages other drivers didn’t necessarily have, like at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, when he spent most of the warm-up trying both his race car and the spare car to see which one he liked the most.
He was also one of the few drivers on the grid to gamble on the race staying wet throughout and he went for a full-wet setup, but that in no way detracts from his performance. He got a bad start and slipped to 9th but was so much quicker than everyone else, and by lap 12 he was in the lead. 12 laps later his lead was 40 seconds and despite running much of the race with an engine problem he was able to win convincingly. It was one of the greatest wet-weather performances of all time and cemented his reputation as the rain master.
Winning titles at any cost, Jerez 1997
In 1994 Schumacher won his first championship after he collided with Damon Hill. It seemed innocuous enough but what happened three years later would cast some doubt over it, and taint his whole career.
Having dragged his Ferrari into championship contention he was leading the last race of the year when title rival Jacques Villeneuve launched his Williams down the inside. It was a clean move but Schumacher, seeing the championship slip away, instinctively turned in and hit Villeneuve. Unfortunately for Michael he bounced into the gravel while Villeneuve was able to carry on and become champion.
There was no question over Schumacher’s intentions this time round – Martin Brundle famously saying “You hit the wrong part of him, my friend!” on commentary at the time – and he was disqualified from the championship standings altogether.
Winning the championship for Ferrari, Suzuka 2000
After years of coming close to winning the championship for Ferrari, everything finally came together in 2000 and at the penultimate round in Suzuka Schumacher became the first driver to win a championship for Ferrari since Jody Scheckter in 1979.
It was a memorable and emotional moment after years of hard work. It also kick started four more years of near-total Ferrari domination, which was, errm, really really fun to watch.
Really important team orders, A1 Ring 2002
Everyone knew that Schumacher was the number one driver at Ferrari, and that everything was done with the aim of making him champion, but what happened in Austria in 2002 was totally ridiculous.
The Ferrari F2002 was totally dominant, Schumacher had won four of the first five races and he had a sizeable lead in the championship. At the A1 Ring however it was Barrichello who was on form, had qualified on pole and had lead virtually the whole race with Schumacher in second.
Then, coming out of the last corner on the last lap, Barrichello slowed and Michael went past to win to the utter disdain of everyone watching. Jean Todt’s call to “Let Michael past for the championship” might have made sense near the end of a close season, but six races in to what was already looking like a whitewash? Not good.
Michael then made a scene on the podium by pushing Rubens on to the top step and giving him the winners trophy. Ferrari were fined and for the following year team orders were banned.
A ridiculous strategy, Magny-Cours 2004
Though it may seem (slightly) more normal now, in the past if a driver made four pit stops it was probably because they had to fix damage or serve a penalty. An intentional four-stop strategy was unheard of, yet that’s exactly what Schumacher and Ferrari did at the French Grand Prix in 2004.
Although the Ferrari F2004 was one of the most ridiculously dominant F1 cars of all time, that years French GP was being controlled by the Renault of Fernando Alonso, who had qualified on pole and led most of the race. Ferrari knew that the best way to get ahead at Magny-Cours (where it was hard to overtake and the pit lane was short) was through strategy, so they switched to an unorthodox four-stopper.
It worked, Schumacher won the race and F1 fans everywhere just had to accept how seemingly unbeatable the combination of Schumacher and Ferrari had become: it was his 9th win in 10 races.
A last hurrah, Interlagos 2006
For all his championships, his dominant victories, his prowess in the wet, his incredible speed and his cunning racing brain, if there was one area where people thought Schumacher might be a bit weak it was his racecraft. On a few occasions in the past he’d found himself down in the pack and struggled. In his first-last Grand Prix, he put those suggestions to bed.
An outside chance of winning the championship turned into a virtual impossibility when he suffered a puncture in the opening laps and dropped to last. From there everyone was treated to an absolutely scintillating recovery drive as Schumacher recovered to 4th place by the end, performing some brilliant overtaking moves along the way. It was a fitting end to the career of one of the greatest drivers of all time.
He’s still got it, Monaco 2010
Of course, it wasn’t quite the end and Michael returned to F1 in 2010 for three seasons at Mercedes. There were fewer successes in his ‘second career’, but there were still highlights, such as his pole lap at Monaco in 2012, or his podium at Valencia that same year, and lowlights, like when he forced Barrichello towards the pit wall at the Hungaroring in 2010.
It was at Monaco in 2010 however that we saw that although Michael was now old, he was still the old Michael. Throughout his whole career he and his teams were known for pushing the absolute boundaries of the regulations and exploiting the faintest of loopholes, and when he overtook Fernando Alonso under the safety car on the last lap of the race to take 6th, all the memories came flooding back.
It was a brilliant bit of opportunism. The safety car rules had changed slightly for 2010 and Schumacher – and indeed most of the other teams – thought what he’d done was legal, but the stewards disagreed and he was penalised 20 seconds, dropping him out of the points.
Keep Fighting, Michael.