The legend of Schumacher
One of the most recent stars of Formula One, Michael Schumacher, is arguably the most famous driver in the world. With the modest German at the wheel, Ferrari won an unprecedented five consecutive drivers’ championships and six consecutive constructors’ championships between 1999 and 2004.
Schumacher broke nearly all records known in the sport, including those for Grand Prix wins (91), wins in a season (13 out of 18 races), and most drivers’ championships (7)! His seemingly unstoppable winning streak only came to an end on September 25, 2005 when Renault driver Fernando Alonso became Formula One’s youngest champion. In 2006, Renault and Alonso won both titles again and, the same year, seven time World Champion Schumacher retired after 16 years in Formula One.
As well as leaving a legacy of unbridled success, during this period of Schumacher’s reign, Formula One’s championship rules were frequently changed by the FIA. Worried about the dominance of one team, with one driver, the FIA tried to make the action on the track more competitive and also cut costs in the hope that more teams could now make a challenge and some exciting results could be obtained.
One of the biggest rule changes was the abolition of Team Orders, something which had been in place since racing began in 1950. Team Orders was when one driver would allow the other driver from his team to finish ahead of him on the say so of the team management. This was usually done when one driver was behind in a particular race but ahead overall in the championship season. The team would then order their drivers to rearrange themselves on the track in order to give the championship points to the driver who needs them most.
The FIA also made changes to the qualifying format, the points scoring system, the technical regulations and rules specifying how long engines and tyres must last.
Other Legends of Formula One
Although Schumacher may be one of the best known Formula One legends, there have been many greats to whiz to fame over the years.
Juan Manuel Fangio
Juan Manuel Fangio
Grand Prix career: 1950-58
World Champion: 1951, ’54, ’55. ’56. ’57
Juan Manuel Fangio is the only driver to win five world championships and no one has ever come near to his win rate, which was close to a victory every two Grand Prix.
Fangio possessed sublime car control, steering on the throttle and wringing the most out of everything he drove. He was also the most intelligent of drivers, able to nurse an ailing car home. Interestingly, his racing philosophy was to win ‘at the slowest possible speed’!
Fangio’s greatest race came in the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring in 1957. A mistake in the pit stop left Fangio 50 seconds behind the leader but, in his Maserati, he managed to catch the leaders with one lap to spare and went on to win the race. In the process he managed to break the track’s lap record several times!
Grand Prix career: 1960-68
World Champion: 1963, ’65
When Jim Clark tragically died while racing at Hockenheim in 1968 he was only 32 years old and already a double world champion. Racing for Lotus, he dominated the sport in the 1960s, winning 25 races and enjoying 32 podium finishes. He was killed during a Formula Two race in Germany in 1968 when his car veered off the track and crashed into trees.
Clark’s most famous race came in the Italian Grand Prix in 1967. A tyre puncture left Clark a lap behind the leaders. After rejoining the race in 16th position, Clark tore through the field to regain the lost lap and clinch the lead. He was narrowly ahead starting the last lap but, irritatingly, his car had not been filled with enough fuel for such a performance and it faltered, and finally coasted across the finish line in third place. Clark’s spectacular performance in this race is, nevertheless, considered by many to be unmatched in the long history of Formula One.
Grand Prix career: 1984-94
World Champion: 1988, 1990, 1991
Senna is regarded as probably the fastest ever driver over a single lap. He won three Formula One World Championships, all while driving for McLaren. A charismatic character, his success gave him the fame and popularity in his home country normally reserved for footballers. When he tragically died at Imola in 1994, the whole of Brazil, and the world of Formula One, went into mourning.
Senna’s most famous moment on the track came at Donington in April 1993. All Senna’s genius came to the fore during the first lap. He was fourth on the grid but, in the pouring rain, over the course of the first lap he picked off the three cars in front of him (Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher) and drove off into the distance. When the checkered flag fell, only Damon Hill remained on the same lap as Senna.
Grand Prix career: 1980-93
World Champion: 1985, 1986, 1989, 1993
Known affectionately as ‘The Professor’, Alain Prost won a then-record 51 Grand Prix and four world championships with a driving style that was considered so smooth and composed that it belied how fast he was actually going.
Skilled at setting up his car for race conditions, Prost would often conserve his brakes and tyres early on in a race, leaving them fresher for a challenge at the end of the race.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Prost’s fierce rivalry with Ayrton Senna gripped the attention of millions of sports fans. But perhaps Prost’s greatest race was the Australian Grand Prix in 1986. Needing to win to clinch the title he qualified fourth in a McLaren that was no match for Nigel Mansell’s Williams. But, on race day, he preserved his tyres to perfection while others suffered on the abrasive surface. As the fuel load lightened, he pressed on to win and clinch successive titles.
Grand Prix career: 1965-73
World Champion: 1969, 1971, 1973
After the sad death of his compatriot Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart took over the mantle of Formula One’s leading light. He formed a legendary partnership with Ken Tyrrell that brought three world championships and the nickname ‘The Flying Scot’.
In 1996, along with his son, he formed the Stewart Grand Prix team, which was then sold to Ford in 1999, who re-named it Jaguar Racing (now known as Red Bull Racing).
Jackie Stewart’s greatest race came at the German Grand Prix in Nurburgring in 1968. In pouring rain and on a potentially lethal track, Stewart left everyone in his wake. After two laps his lead was 34 seconds. By the halfway mark he was almost two minutes ahead. He eventually won by more than four minutes!
Grand Prix career: 1991-2006
World Champion: 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
The official Formula website calls Schumacher "statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen", as he holds nearly every record in Formula One, including most drivers’ championships, most race victories, fastest laps, pole positions, points scored and most races won in a single season.
He won his first two titles for Benetton but then moved to Ferrari and brought success back to the ailing giant, winning five consecutive World Championships. He retired from the sport in 2006.
With a career such as his is it difficult to choose a greatest race, but perhaps his second World Championship in front of his adoring home fans takes the prize. In his last race in Europe for Benetton, Schumacher reeled in Jean Alesi and overtook him two laps from the finish to win in front of his home fans at the Nurburgring by a margin of 45 seconds. There is now a corner of the track named after him.
Grand Prix career: 1951-61
Stirling Moss is regarded as the best driver never to win a World Championship. He came runner-up four times and had the misfortune to be racing at the same time as Juan Manuel Fangio. Were it not for the presence of the Argentine, Moss surely would have won several titles.
His greatest race took place in the Monaco Grand Prix in 1961. Moss, in a private Lotus, took the lead early and pulled away as the more powerful Ferraris got held up in traffic. They chased him down though, breaking the lap record in the process. Moss responded by matching their times and held on to win by three seconds after 100 laps of constant pressure.
Grand Prix career: 1977-82
Another legendary driver who never won a world title, Villenueve was regarded as possibly the fastest driver of all time. His career was cut short tragically when he died at Zolder in 1982. His son Jacques achieved what Gilles never quite managed by winning the World Championship in 1997.
The moment that summed up Villeneuve’s speed and fighting spirit came in qualifying for the US Grand Prix in 1979. On a torrentially wet New York day, many drivers considered conditions too dangerous to venture onto the circuit but some did leave their garages in order to post a time. Rejecting the caution shown by other drivers, Villeneuve decided to attack the track and took poll position by an astounding 11 seconds.
Grand Prix career: 1968-1982
World Champion: 1978
Mario Andretti had an eclectic career, starting in the mid-Sixties when he dominated sprint-car racing in America. He then moved to Indycars, winning the Indy 500 in 1969 and won his first Grand Prix in 1971 when debuting for Ferrari. He subsequently became World Champion with Lotus in 1978. He then returned to the States and became Indycar champion again.
Andretti’s greatest Formula One race came in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix in 1982. Following Gilles Villeneuve’s death, Ferrari were in turmoil and drafted in an aging Andretti for their home race. Ferrari needed something to lift the team and Andretti gave it to them by taking pole position. He eventually finished third in the race.