A seven-time Formula 1 World Champion. That’s the title that Michael Schumacher can still claim, and a title that might never be broken. Words by Neil Godwin-Stubbert.
He was born in Hurth, Germany, on 3 January 1969: 50 years ago this month. That his father Rolf ran a karting track is probably why young ‘Schumi’ started karting at just four years old. He proved rather good at it, too.
As with some other elite drivers, his experience of karting stood him in good stead for his future F1 career. By 1984 he was German karting champion, by 1987 European champion. Winning the German F3 championship in 1990 saw him ready for F1 with the Jordan team in 1991. He was seventh-quickest in qualifying on his debut; after just one race he was tempted away by Benetton, with which team he won his first race. Schumacher went on to finish third in the championship in his very first season.
He controversially won the 1994 championship by one point, much to the dismay of Damon Hill, but Schumacher’s obvious talent and ruthless ambition were always apparent. After another championship win in 1995, Ferrari enticed him away for the 1996 season. The Scuderia’s lack of championship wins for two decades was about to change as the team was rebuilt around Schumacher. Another controversial incident, this time with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in 1997, led to a disqualification, but the next year he finished the championship right behind Mika Hakkinen and the dominant McLaren team.
In 2000 he became Ferrari’s first F1 World Champion for 21 years and the tifosi took him to their hearts, even if other countries’ fans didn’t. Six more F1 World Championship titles followed, and after retirement in 2006 he returned to racing with Mercedes from 2010 to 2012 – albeit without great success.
His life-threatening skiing accident in 2014 now seems, in many people’s minds, to define him. It’s better to remember him for his absolute talent and dedication – and for quite a lot of controversy.