Michael Schumacher was one of Formula 1’s most famous and successful drivers. He won the Drivers’ Championship on several occasions and has been described as the greatest driver the sport has ever seen by motor-racing’s governing body.
Schumacher has also done much to popularise the sport all over the world, particularly within his native Germany. His achievements both on and off the track together with his affable personality have won him millions of fans from Japan to the United States, although his bouts of gamesmanship have brought detractors. His brother, Ralf, is also a successful Formula 1 driver and currently races for the Toyota team.
Michael Schumacher was born in the small German town of Hürth Hermülheim on January 3, 1969. The young Schumacher displayed a keen interest in kart-racing from a very young age.
At the age of four, he was the youngest member of his local kart-racing club. By the time he turned six, he had won his first kart championship, ‘driving’ a kart that had been painstakingly constructed by his bricklayer father.
A lack of funds threatened the development of Schumacher’s sporting interests, however, and it needed a local businessman’s generosity to get things on track, providing the 800DM required for the new engine to power his kart.
However, German racing regulations required drivers to be 14 years old to engage in more formal forms of racing. In order to overcome this hurdle, Schumacher obtained a racing license from Luxembourg.
By 1987, after several years of amateur racing, Schumacher had become the German and European karting champion. In order to devote himself fully to motor-racing he withdrew from school and worked as a mechanic in his spare time.
Schumacher has won scores of Formula 1 races. He won his first Formula 1 Championship during the 1994 motor-racing season, driving for the Benetton team. Schumacher successfully defended his title the following year. By the end of the season he had amassed a whopping 33 more points than the second placed driver, Britain’s Damon Hill.
In 1996, Schumacher joined the Ferrari team. Under Ferrari, he was to experience some of the greatest wins of his career. As a team, Ferrari’s performance had been dire during the early 1990s.
Schumacher was seen as the perfect person to reverse the team’s fortunes. In typical style, Schumacher set about doing just that. The following year, Schumacher won three races for Ferrari – more wins than the team had amassed between 1991 and 1995. However, a Championship win under Ferrari was to remain elusive for a few more years.
Schumacher finally achieved his third Championship win in 2000, bringing the title back to Ferrari. It was a hard-fought victory, as the Finnish driver Mika Häkkinen had posed a considerable challenge for much of the competition.
By the Italian Grand Prix, he had accumulated as many wins as his idol, Ayrton Senna (who had tragically died when Schumacher was at Benetton). He sealed the Drivers’ Championship that year with a win over his Finnish rival at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The 2001 season demonstrated Schumacher’s clear dominance in the motor-racing world. Only four other drivers won races that year but none of them posed any threat to the German champion.
He won the 2002 Championship too, but this time under slightly dubious circumstances. In a controversial move, the Ferrari team ordered Schumacher’s team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, to slow down in order to allow Schumacher to win the race. That year, Schumacher completed the Formula 1 Championship, having amassed a staggering 144 points.
He had 67 more points than his team-mate, Barrichello, who occupied second place in the competition’s final standings. In 2003, Schumacher achieved yet another Championship title and this was followed by further success in 2004, winning twelve of the first thirteen races.
2005 and 2006 marked the twilight years of Schumacher’s racing career. He won a mere three races during his last two seasons, but still pushed the prodigious Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, to the edge in his final campaign.
Schumacher has faced his fair share of criticism during his racing career. He was the subject of much angry press within the British media after a number of collisions during the 1994 season. These collisions were to affect the outcome of the Championship that year, frustrating the final efforts of Britain’s Damon Hill. Nevertheless, the race stewards determined that the collisions had not been deliberate.
Schumacher was then the subject of another collision-related controversy in 1997 during the European Grand Prix. This time round he was excluded from the final standings. The Formula 1 governing body concluded that whilst The manoeuvre was an instinctive reaction and although deliberate not made with malice or premeditation. It was a serious error.
Sadly, his career was marred once again in his final season. In qualifying for the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, Schumacher surprisingly stopped his car in the Racasse corner. While he did this, rival Fernando Alonso was attempting to beat Schumacher’s fastest lap and argued after the event that Schumacher had intentionally stopped him having a clear run. The officials agreed and Schumacher was forced to start from the end of the grid.
Off the Track
Like many other sportspeople, Schumacher has benefited greatly from the media frenzy surrounding him. The German investment company, Deutsche Vermögensberatung, notably paid Schumacher $8 million over a three-year period simply for allowing a small 10 cm by 8 cm advertisement to be printed on his cap.
However, Schumacher is also known for his generosity. He donated $10 million to help the relief efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. He is now a spokesman for UNESCO and regularly gives talks on the importance of safe driving practices.
Ferrari announced Schumacher’s retirement during the 2006 racing season. He immediately took up a key position off the track – to help Ferrari bosses nurture driving talent and choose future racers. Schumacher’s fellow drivers praised his exploits following his retirement, describing him as one of the greatest all-round racing drivers.