Although he sits at the top of the list for the most pole positions in F1 (although not for much longer if Lewis Hamilton has his way), you wouldn’t necessarily say that qualifying was one of Michael Schumacher’s strongest points.
That’t not to say he was bad at it though. His pole lap at Monaco in 1996 was sensational, and his qualifying duels with Mika Hakkinen (especially at Suzuka) are legendary. One of his best laps though came ahead of the 2003 Austrian Grand Prix – the last race at the circuit when it was known as the A1 Ring.
This was the first year of one-lap qualifying and Kimi Raikkonen had gone out and set a storming time which looked unassailable. With only Schumacher left to run, Kimi looked set to take his first pole position when the Ferrari driver pretty much drifted his way around turn two.
Yep, despite a poor first sector and that enormous slide at the start of sector two he somehow managed to recover enough to snatch pole position with some stunning driving (and before you ask, everyone was ignoring the track limits at turn one that year).
He led the early stages of the race before dropping behind Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya in the pits after there was a small fire during refuelling. However he was quickly back in front – Raikkonen’s McLaren had a slight engine problem and shortly after Michael passed him, Montoya retired from the lead as his BMW engine went pop.
He went on to win the race ahead of Kimi, but it was that qualifying lap that stands out above all else. His ability to carry forward momentum when his car was sideways remained a trait of his driving throughout his career, and that certainly paid off here.
But it was his absolute refusal to admit defeat (sometimes to his detriment) that made him the great driver he was, and that was on show with this lap. Even after such a massive moment he just put the error out of his mind and simply drove better. There aren’t many who can do that.