For Schumacher, ‘fast’ was a way of life. He loved speed and everything that went with it.
Most great athletes have had ordinary beginnings. Michael Schumacher was no different. He was born on January 3, 1969, in Hurth, near Cologne, Germany. However, what was unusual about this feisty German was his resolve to be on top always. Since the day he crashed his kart, (he was four years old) built by his father Rolf Schumacher, onto a lamp-post, Michael has seldom lived off the fast lane.
His rise to prominence was nothing short of meteoric. By the age of six, Schumacher had mastered his kart and won his first karting championship in Cologne. His father, though not affluent, decided to encourage Schumacher, who showed great potential for racing. Rolf sought help from local businessmen and wealthy racing enthusiasts to help his son’s progress in karting.
After making rapid strides in local karting championships, Schumacher, at the age of 18, won the German and European karting championships. He soon graduated to junior formulae and won the German Formula Three Championship at the age of 21. This earned Schumacher a seat at Mercedes for sports car racing, where he impressed some of the top teams in the business.
The Formula One team, Jordan, quickly snapped him up and Schumacher made a stunning debut at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1991 by qualifying seventh. The following year, Benetton made Schumacher an offer and he quickly accepted it. He then posted his first victory in Formula One at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1992 which marked Schumacher’s rise to the top. In the next four years, Schumacher would hit the top, winning 18 races and two world titles (1994 and 1995). However, Schumacher’s supremacy was well and truly underway in the early 2000s when he drove for Ferrari. He was ruthless and controversial yet brilliant as he brutally killed off challengers as if they just didn’t deserve to run alongside him. After four very competitive years with Ferrari, Schumacher finally ended the Italian outfit’s 21-year wait for a world drivers’ title in 2000 (Jody Scheckter had last won for Ferrari in 1979). The rest, as they say, is history
Ferrari, all the way
Without doubt, Schumacher’s best years were with Ferrari, a team with rich racing tradition. While the German, known for his speed and derring-do on the track and a near-faultless work ethic, reorganised the Ferrari camp around him, the Maranello outfit, with the benefit of massive racing budgets, offered Schumacher a car that was second to none on the circuit. Ferrari also backed its star driver — who enjoyed a status not less than that of a demigod in the team — even in unflattering situations, coughing up his fines and carrying out damage-control exercises as Schumacher flung himself to extremes. The outcome, one should say, was pretty stimulating — an enterprise that every team or driver aspires for but only a few can build.
The second phase of Schumacher’s driving career, after he came out of retirement to join Mercedes in 2010, was a big disappointment though. The fact that he had once again teamed up with Ross Brawn, the man behind the German during his glory days with Ferrari, aroused massive interest as fans thronged the circuits in anticipation of another dominant run by Schumacher. But bearing the brunt of Mercedes’ reliability problems, the seven-time world champion had to make way for a younger driver, Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, at the end of the 2012 season.
Fly the flag high
Seven world titles, five of them on the bounce, 91 career victories, 155 podium finishes and 68 pole positions are no mean achievement. The records may not stand forever (the current world champion, Sebastian Vettel, is closing in on one of them), but Schumacher’s greatness as a driver who pushed the limits and extended boundaries, will.
Michael Schumacher’s love of speed is well documented. After he retired from Formula One the first time at the end of the 2006 season, he took to high-speed pursuits such as motorbike racing, skydiving, snowmobile racing and skiing.
After retiring for the second time from F1, Schumacher suffered a severe head injury while skiing on December 29, 2013. The former F1 driver slalomed off the marked track, tumbled out of control and crashed onto a rock. He was admitted to a hospital in Grenoble where the doctors have placed the seven-time F1 world champion in a medically-induced coma. Though Schumacher’s condition is said to be stable, reports in a section of the media suggest that it will be a long, long road to recovery.
In 2009, Schumacher was set to come out of his first retirement and replace an injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari, but the comeback was aborted following a neck injury the seven-time world champion suffered in a motorbike accident.