By Hannah Davies
The recent Formula 1 race at Spa-Francorchamps may have disappointed fans as the washout failed to provide any real racing after hours of delay. Yet the weekend itself remained a special occasion for the sport – marking the 30th anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 debut.
Skill and achievement can be hard to compare in Formula 1, given technological developments and the engineering, performance, and setup of each driver’s car. However, Michael Schumacher still dominates conversations about the ‘greatest of all time’. Before Hamilton there was Schumacher, and the fact that it has taken decades for another driver to match and eventually surpass his records is a testament to his achievements and the incredibly high bar he set for the sport.
His career began with a surprise debut at Spa in 1991 in which Schumacher was called in as an emergency replacement to Jordan’s imprisoned driver Bertrand Gachot. Despite retiring on the first lap of the race, he had done enough to show his mettle in qualifying and the opportunity kickstarted his Formula 1 career, as he was signed by Benetton for the remainder of the season.
Schumacher went on to gain his first podium in Mexico in 1992, and his first race win was just ten races later in Belgium on the anniversary of his debut. His talent was clear from early on in his career, winning consecutive championships for Benetton in 1994 and 1995, before moving to Ferrari.
His success has been attributed to the importance he placed on driver fitness, attention to race strategy and willingness to hit all corners at high speed. The German people adored their home-grown star from comparatively humble beginnings, and he remains possibly the most famous German sportsman. He received a similar level of devotion from the Tifosi as he seemingly revived Ferrari and reinvigorated their supporters by winning five consecutive championships for them between 2000 and 2004.
That’s not to say Schumacher was without his critics, as some complained of his ruthlessness and determination to win at all costs, while others critiqued his 2010 return. Whether or not you agreed with his methods, however, when in his prime Schumacher’s dominance was unquestionable.
Schumacher finally retired from the sport in 2012 (for the second time, after a shorter break between 2006 and 2010). However, his legacy was marred by tragedy after a disastrous skiing accident in 2013 left him seriously injured. Schumacher hasn’t been seen publicly since. Understandably the topic is sensitive to his loved ones, the Schumacher family famously private, but, hope to share more about the man behind the legend in the new Netflix documentary ‘Schumacher’, set to be released on September 16th.
What continues of Schumacher’s legacy today, alongside his impact on driver fitness, strategy, and race records, is most visible in his son Mick. Now a Formula 1 driver in his rookie season at the very same age his father was when he started. Mick has talked of how special he thinks their connection is. Mick carries on the Schumacher name within the sport’s top levels and wore a helmet fashioned to look like Michael’s own from his Spa debut during the anniversary race in tribute.
Whether Mick will live up to his father’s prominence and be able to achieve on the same level is yet to be seen as he continues his journey in Formula 1. Schumacher’s seemingly unbeatable records of 155 podiums and 91 race victories have now been surpassed by Hamilton but records are made to be broken, and if Schumacher and Hamilton’s shared record of seven world titles is ever surpassed, it will be a testament to both drivers’ prowess.
Image: Azhar Zainal via Flickr