Since its inception in 1950, Formula One World Championship has witnessed the title being won by 28 different drivers. Out of the 25, 14 have won the title more than once, and Juan Manuel Fangio held the record for winning the title a record five times till he was eclipsed by the most explosive driver in Formula One history, Michael Schumacher, who has won the title seven times and has held nearly every single record in the book.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Michael’s father was a bricklayer and also ran the local kart track. Michael started his stint with driving on a pedal kart and when his father fitted the kart with a motorcycle engine, the future multiple World Champion title holder, crashed into a lamppost.
But Michael was undeterred and he soon mastered the machine and went on to win his first kart championship at the age ofsix. His parents, sensing the talent in their son arranged for sponsorship from wealthy enthusiasts and Michael won theGerman and European kart championship in 1987. He promptly left school to join as an apprentice car mechanic, and in 1990 he won the German F3 championship, and was immediately hired by Mercedes to drive sports cars. The very next year, Michael made an impressive Formula One debut, and qualified seventh in a Jordan at Spa, one of the most demanding circuits, for the Belgian Grand Prix. He was snapped up by Benetton, and in 1992, he won his first Formula One race, once again at Spa.
Michael remained with Benetton for four more seasons, during which period he won 18 more races as well as two world championships.
His first championship win was in 1994, and it was not entirely cleared as Benetton was suspected of technicalirregularities and during the championship showdown, Schumacher in his Adelaide collided, some believe deliberately, into his closest competitor Damon Hill’s Williams. His next title win was in 1995, which he deserved without question and soon after the win, he switched to Ferrari. Ferrari had not seen a championship win since 1979, with Jody Scheckter and ever since then the team had been in a mess. With Schumacher, Ferrari was reborn, and started the season with three wins in 1996, and then another five wins in 1997. But the 1997 season ended on a infamous note when Schumacher was found guilty of trying to unsuccessfully ram the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve, his main rival. To punish his misdemeanor, Schumacher’s second place in the season was stricken from the record books.
In 1998, Schumacher once again finished second, but 1999 saw him suffer a broken leg from a crash at the British Grand Prix. This was the only injury in his career. After this point ‘Schumi’ was unstoppable, and he became the World Champion in 2000, Ferrari’s first in 21 years. Schumacher astounded everyone by winning the title in the four consecutive seasons. In the 2002 season, he won 11 times and managed to finish on the podium in all 17 races. In 2003, Schumacher broke Fangio’s record and won the championship title a sixth time. Continuing unabated, Michael won the 2004 World Champion title, his seventh after winning 13 out of 18 races. In 2005, Michael had the disadvantage of an off-the-pace Ferrari, but still managed a third position in overall standings. Even though he was found guilty of parking his Ferrari deliberately to prevent anyone from beating his qualifying time, he finished his Formula One career in 2006 with all the class he had come to be associated with. In this season he beat Ayrton Senna’s pole position record of 65 by extending his own to 68. He also scored seven wins making his total 91, which is 40 more than his rival Alain Prost, and nearly won another championship title.
Schumacher had all the characteristics of great drivers, from ambition, intelligence, dedication to confidence and determination. But what set him apart was his unbeatable passions for the sport and a consistent quest for improvement. Making use of his immense natural talent and his ability to make split-second decisions, he was able to easily adapt to changing circumstances and always planned ahead. His excellent state of fitness, attained by a hard and rigorous training routine, he also trained harder than any other driver, as well as his sharp sensitivity helped him understand the limits of his car and himself.
Ferrari were truly privileged to have someone of the caliber of Michael Schumacher to be part of their team. The German led the Scuderia to an incredible six constructors’ titles. Schumi was always there for the team and personally visited the factory several times, at Maranello. During his visits, Schumacher would talk to the personnel, appreciating their efforts, thanking them, inspiring everyone to do better. The team was in love with Michael who often said that he too was in love with the Ferrari ‘family’.
In his last season at the top level, Schumacher had been at the top of his game. Never, in the history of the game, has a champion been so dominant for such large periods but even for the great Michael Schumacher, the time had to come to call it a day while he was still at the top.