It was the year 2002 at the swooping, looping majestic sweeps of the Spa-Francorchamps. Michael Schumacher took the wheel at his favourite track. He was heading for Ferrari’s fifth 1-2 finish of the season — and more importantly for him, a record 10th grand prix victory in a season, a feat which had never been achieved before.
Schumacher shared the record of nine wins in a season with Nigel Mansell, but now the German giant was looking to put sole claim to the record. Fast forward to the final lap and he was in the lead. Kimi Raikkonen had been the star of qualifying, but on Sunday, Schumacher ripped away from him, almost making the Finn look silly. He nursed his car when required and pushed it to the limits when he needed to, setting screens purple by recording the fastest times lap after lap.
And then it happened; he crossed the chequered flag, ending the race. The German averaged 140.411 mph throughout the 44-lap 190-mile race, finishing in just 21 minutes and 20.634 seconds over the hour. The margin of victory over teammate Rubens Barrichello may have only been 1.977s, but that was enough to make history.
This was his moment and it was an unforgettable one. The F2002, with Schumacher in it, claimed pure dominance that season.
Strapped in a single seat racing car capable of more than 200mph, the 45-year-old spent 308 races trying to curb an insatiable appetite for pushing the limits. He flouted the rules from time to time and questions will always remain about his temperament and sportsmanship, but his raw skill and need for speed have placed him in the pantheon of greats.
For his fervent fans, he is simply the best, while even amongst those who have a scant passion for motor racing, the name rings a familiar bell — Schumacher left his mark during his 21-year career without a chance of it ever fading away.
The retired racer and seven-time Formula One World Champion has won more titles and races than any other driver; 91 wins to be exact, 40 clear of next best Alain Prost of France.
Schumacher’s remarkable career also includes most wins in a season (13), pole positions (68) and fastest laps (77).
His driving techniques, which included accelerating while turning when going into the corners fast and eventually coming out with an additional micro-second advantage over the other drivers, gave him an edge.
As with most racers, Schumacher began his career in karting at the age of four and made his Formula One debut for the Jordan team in 1991 at the Belgian Grand Prix. However, it was not until 1992 that he won his first race at the same Grand Prix. For the following season, he was signed by Bentton-Ford till 1995.
It would be unjustified to ignore some of his outstanding moments in this period even if, at times, they were laced with controversies. Rewinding back to the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix, not many of the young drivers would have had the courage to overtake the great Ayrton Senna. But Schumacher was different. He had to show his mettle. And he did. The German put two wheels on the grass and put his foot firmly on the throttle to squeeze by into third place. He never looked back.
Then followed his first world championship in Adelaide in 1994 — but it was more remembered for the crash that took place. Schumacher headed into the race with 92 points, one ahead of Damon Hill. And as long as Hill did not better him, the German would succeed. It is up for debate if it was a deliberate move on Schumacher’s part or an accident, but the two controversially collided and were forced to retire on lap 36 after Schumacher’s car struck Hill’s as the Englishman was trying to overtake.
Some of Schumacher’s best performances took place in wet conditions and such was the case at the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix. Both he and Hill were toe-to-toe in two very well-matched cars – Schumacher’s Benetton and the Hill’s Williams. The German gambled with slick tyres to gain an early advantage and when the rain came, he continued to challenge; but Hill, who was on rain tyres, was closing in on Schumacher. The German, though, squeezed his nearest rival into positions which forced Hill to either back down or go off the road. Both at one point had to switch to wets when the safety car was called out due to the intensity of the rain. Hill ended up having to go to the pits for a 10-second penalty and that is when Schumacher grabbed his second championship title.
Having conquered Formula One with Benetton, Schumacher began his prolific career at Ferrari in 1996 – a team that had not won the driver’s championship since 1979 – and went on to claim five successive titles with the team (2000-2004). In 2004, he succeeded in 12 of the first 13 races, clinching his seventh world title by winning the Belgian Grand Prix and setting a record of 13 wins for the season.
After that milestone though, he failed to make much of an impact till his retirement in 2006, having lost his advantage when new rules dictated that cars had to finish races on just one set of tyres.
In 2010, Schumacher made his return to the sport with Mercedes, but the comeback failed to reach previous heights. The only noticeable achievement was a third-place place finish in the 2012 European Grand Prix at Valencia.
All and all though, Schumacher made it into the book of legends. His competitive instinct and win-at-all-cost attitude may not have bode well with many, but he stands amongst the greats. Like he said when he bid farewell to his career, “I prefer to be described as a fighter, someone who never backed down.” And never back down he did.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2014.
Like Sports on Facebook, follow @ETribuneSports on Twitter to stay informed and join in the conversation.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ