The most decorated and succesful racing driver of all time has taken his final bow from Formula 1, but will remembered as one the all time greats of the sport and for me, the king of the monsterous V10 engine era.
Schumachers career started in 1991 when he made his debut for Jordan as a stand in driver at Spa after impressing Team Principal Eddie Jordan in practice sessions, despite him being contracted to McLaren as their test driver.
However, his debut faltered retiring on the first lap with clutch problems. For the next race he was snapped up by Bennetton who paid out the remaineder of his contract to McLaren as compension. Since that day, Michael Schumacer has never looked back, with his first win coming at the age of 23, making over 300 Grand Prix starts, winning 91 races, and finishing on the podium 154 times in his illustrious career!
Michael was more than just a racer in his career, but a gentleman also. Throughout his career as racing driver and technical director a Ferrari after his first retirement, Schumacher has donated tens of millions of dollars to charities across the globe. Michael was also a gentlemen on the track and his sportmanship has been demonstrated many a time for one, in 1997 when Giancarlo Fisichella broke down on the final lap of the race at Hockenheim, and Michael stopped to give him a lift back to the pit lane. However, as with any great racing driver Schumacer does have his critics, mainly evolved from his high tempered reactions after crash with McLaren‘s David Coulthard at Spa in 1998, questioning his ability as a true racing driver was questioned and people began to wonder whether Michael was starting to show signs of arrogance given that at the time, he was by far and away the best in the sport. Despite the critics, Michaels enthusiasm, energy, and passion for the sport he loves can not be brought into question and later we will see exactly why Michael should never be seen as an arrogant racing driver and just how wrong the journalists questioning Schumacher were.
I can remember the day of Schumacher’s terrible crash in 1999 at Silverstone like it was yesterday; I was just six years old and I was reduced to tears when I heard the legendary Murray Walker say “This does not look good for Michael Schumacher”. Schumacher spurred on by missing the rest of the 1999 season with a broken leg, took his pre-season training to a new level and trained harder, and for longer, to become the fittest driver there was. He returned in 2000 and reclaimed the drivers’ championship for a thirf time which sparked the greatest triumph in Formula 1 history winning the drivers’ championship for a record five consecutive times from 2000-2004 making him the most dominant force in the modern Formula 1 era.
The moment I will remember Schumacher for most, was his emotionally touching post-race press conference at the Italian GP in 2000. Michael broke down into tears along with his friend Mika Hakkinen as a result of equalling the greatest of all time and his friend, Aryton Senna’s record of race wins. When questioned whether it meant a lot to him, he replied “yes it does mean a lot to me” he then broke down into tears and was comforted by Mika and his brother Ralf.
The thing I love about Michael Schumacher is that he has shown very little arrogance about himself and greatly respects others. When asked where he felt Senna ranked as greatest of all time, Michael responded without even thinking “I would put Senna as Number one”. After a terrible first corner pile up in 2001 at Spa, the following season, Michael walked down the grid to ask his fellow drivers not to overtake before the first corner to prevent another disaster happening at the first turn when the race had to be restarted for safety reasons. Despite some teams not agreeing with Michael’s request, all the racers did! In his final race of his career, he moved out of the way to let his fellow countryman, Sebastian Vettel, overtake him on route to winning the Drivers’ championship for a third time and becoming the youngest driver to do so. Straight after the race, the first person to congratulate Vettel was Michael Schumacher. I saw a distinct message in this, it was a ceremony of passing the baton over to the fellow German, who I foresee to become one of the all-time greats and possibly the only person at this time, who I can see surpassing Schumacher’s magical seven world championship titles
Michael’s return has not been as near as spectacular as people hoped but he admitted that being involved in a forthcoming team had been a fantastic experience. Michaels passion and drive for this sport has been emphasised by Eddie Jordan who quoted “Very few people I’ve ever come across spends as much time as he does making sure his car is as perfect as it can be“
Many will say that his legacy has been damaged by his return, arguably it has, but for me it has been a second chance to see a legend behind the wheel of an F1 once again. Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost most notably tried a similar pattern both having limited success like Michael. Finishing on pole in Monaco in 2012 showed to me that Michael still had some magic left in him, to return to the most demanding track in the calendar and blitz the likes of Webber, Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Vettel in qualifying.
I finish now to remind you, Careers are not defined by a race or season. Michael Schumacher is a record breaker, a record holder and the most decorated racing driver the sport has ever seen, let’s not forget that fact. He is not the greatest of all time, but he is indeed the most successful.
It has been a real pleasure to watch you over the years Michael. Thanks for the memories!
Auf Weidersehen und Danke!