As I said in the previous article, Michael Schumacher was a huge inspiration for me, and single-handedly got me interested in Formula 1. However, as I got older, I started to notice the darker side behind the legend, and wondered whether my faith in him was justified.
Hundreds of hours on YouTube later, the picture was more clear. Schumacher was fast – no doubt about that – but there was a vicious side to him, where he would strike out at those who impeded him, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.
So do we remember him as an erratic, dangerous driver who would take out another driver just to gain a place? Some people certainly have.
I would argue against that though. A look through the history books will show you that Michael was incredibly fast from the moment he entered the sport. Starting an incredible 7th on the grid, the young German instantly took the sport by storm, soon generating huge support that lasts to this very day.
A man of this skill cannot be remembered for several clashes across a 19-year career. I’m not saying we should ignore Adelaide 1994, or Jerez 1997, but there are many more events over the years which attest to Schumacher’s skills.
Barcelona 1996 is the prime example. Earning the name “Regenmeister” in the process, he utterly destroyed the entire field in torrential rain, lapping 3 seconds a lap faster than anyone else, and lapping all drivers all the way up to 3rd position. If that isn’t one of the most legendary drives in F1, I don’t know what is.
The United States Grand Prix of 2003 will always stand out in my mind, rather unsurprisingly, seeing as it was my second ever F1 race. After slipping down to 6th on a damp track, Schumacher assumed the Bridgestone intermediates, and thrashed the entire field, cruising to the chequered flag after assuming the lead on lap 20.
What struck me about his pace, though, was his sheer consistency. While the BMWs and McLarens slided around the track like they were on ice, Schumacher was able to use his intermediates until they were slicks, not making a single mistake all race.
His pace since his return was never going to emulate his previous glory, only the naive would have thought that. Perhaps this is the reason so many were disappointed with his comeback, seeing as Michael had made such a fuss about winning the world championship again.
But that’s not the point. By returning in 2010, Schumacher had thrown himself into a different era of Formula 1. The tyres are more challenging, the cars are less rear-stable (for several reasons) and the talent pool had grown enormously. After shoving aside Kimi Raikkonen from 2001 to 2006, and Fernando Alonso up to 2004 Schumacher suddenly found himself completely eclipsed by the new guard. How much of it was down to old age, we will never know.
It has, however, given him new perspective:
"In the past six years I have learned a lot, also about me, and I am thankful for
it: for example, that you can open yourself up without losing focus. That losing
can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning; something I had lost
out of sight sometimes in earlier years. That you have to appreciate to be able to
do what you love. That you have to live your convictions. I have opened my horizon,
and I am at ease with myself."
With his mind clear, I believe we can now look on Schumacher as the most complete driver in Formula 1 history. To this day, he is completely synonymous with this sport, and for good reason. We will never forget the glory days, Ferrari fans or not, and many will forever appreciate the huge appeal he gave to this epic sport.
The only thing he still has to do is complete a second epic exit from the sport. Many remember Brazil 2006 as one of his best drives, so let’s see what he’s got in these final few weeks.