Michael Schumacher was born on the third of January 1969 to Rolf and Elisabeth Schumacher. The family move to the town of Kerpin-Manheim, a working class town near Cologne, Germany. It was there that the family became involved with karting. Michael, only four at the time was given a kart powered by an old lawn-mower engine by his father. From so humble a beginning was a World Champion’s career launched. Karting became a family obsession fed by the resourcefulness of the elder Schumacher and the spirit of young Michael. Rolf Schumacher’s mechanical ability led him to work part-time repairing other go-karts at the local track. In 1980 he traveled to Nivelles, Belgium for the World Karting Championship and saw a driver that impressed him deeply, that driver was Ayrton Senna. Because German regulations stated the minimum permissible age to obtain a kart racing license was 14 he obtained a Luxembourg license (obtainable from the age of 12). Michael was soon making a name for himself and in 1984 he won the German Junior Championship. The European championship came his way in 1987.
The path to car racing started with Formula Ford or Formula Koenig, as it was known in Germany. To compete at this level Schumacher would need sponsors and lucky for him several sponsors including Jurgen Dik had noticed the young German. His first full year competing in the series saw him win nine out of ten rounds. Willie Weber, his future manager, was running his own Formula Three team and gave Michael a test in one of his cars. After seven or eight laps he was setting times 1 1/2 seconds faster than Webber’s regular driver. Schumacher’s first year in Formula Three saw him competing against future Formula 1 drivers, Karl Wendlinger and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Wendlinger eventually nosed out his compatriots for the title. The next year was all Schumacher. Instead of graduating to Formula 3000 Webber placed his young protégé in the Mercedes junior team driving a sports car for Sauber along with his former Formula Three rivals. Under the watchful eyes of Jochen Neerspasch and Jochen Mass he was schooled in the art of racecar driving. During this period Schumacher learned much of what would later become his trademark smooth style.
Opportunity arrived when Jordan’s Formula One drive Bertrand Gachot found himself in jail and Schumacher was given a test with the Irish team. His times were a revelation and he was quickly signed or so it was thought. Jordan wanted to sign the young driver to a three-year contract but Schumacher’s advisors urged caution. Eventually a temporary deal was done and the rest as the saying goes is history. He made a brilliant debut at Spa in Belgium in a Jordan, where he qualified 7th ahead of his more experienced teammate. After some legal wrangling that was only recently resolved he finished the year at Benetton. The next year he won his first race at Spa. Showing signs of brilliance his time would come in the black year of 1994 when he became World Champion by one point after an epic duel with Damon Hill was finally decided in controversial circumstances at Adelaide. 1995 was an altogether different story and driving his Benetton-Ford after a hard and sometimes controversial battle with Damon Hill became the youngest double champion – his car was nearly unstoppable and he won nine Grands Prix that season. 1996 saw him move to Ferrari and marked the start of his biggest challenge. A challenge he met and conquered winning another five World Championships while adding to astounding 91 total wins.
But any biography of Michael Schumacher would be incomplete without taking note of his sometimes un-sportsman like conduct that has blemished his career. Returning to the Australian Grand Prix in 1994 and with the world championship at stake, Schumacher’s Benetton slid wide and into the wall while trying to stay ahead of title rival Damon Hill’s Williams. Schumacher rejoined the track with a damaged car and Hill, who had not seen the German’s error, attempted to pass him at the next corner. Schumacher turned in on the Williams, putting both cars out of the race and sealing his first world title. Hill wrote in a subsequent book: “There are two things that set Michael apart from the rest of the drivers in Formula One – his sheer talent and his attitude.
“I am full of admiration for the former, but the latter leaves me cold.”
Three years later against another Williams driver, Jacques Villeneuve would win the championship if he beat Schumacher, now with Ferrari, in the final race of the season at Jerez in Spain. Heading into the closing stages of the race, Villeneuve was closing on Schumacher and attempted to pass him at the end of the track’s back straight. Again, Schumacher turned in on his rival, but this time it backfired. Schumacher’s car was left beached in a gravel trap, while Villeneuve continued to finish third and win the title. F1’s governing body took the unprecedented step of stripping Schumacher of his second place in the championship though his wins would still stand. The black eye he received did not seem to change his tactics for they returned in full force the following year.
Due to the tragic death of Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher stands preeminent in Formula 1. The apparent lack of any consistent challengers to his supremacy while at Ferrari should not be held against this very talented driver. Is Michael Schumacher best that ever lived? This will no doubt be argued as long as men rick their lives race cars but it’s doubtful that the right circumstances will allow another driver to match his winning record.
Like too many sporting greats, Schumacher attempted a comeback after a three-year absence and raced for the Mercedes team from 2010 to 2012. The comeback proved disappointing, with the German driver going winless and managing only one top-three finish, the Mercedes team had not yet hit its stride.