Home / Motorsport / Formula 1 / The Sports Lowdown’s Greatest Formula One Drivers of all time No. 2 – Michael Schumacher

The Sports Lowdown’s Greatest Formula One Drivers of all time No. 2 – Michael Schumacher

View image | gettyimages.com

Formula One has been blessed with some truly outstanding drivers in the past, and whilst they should all be respected in their own right as world champions – many of whom have won multiple titles – it is human nature to try and compare drivers of different generations. Here at ‘The Sports Lowdown’ our chief Formula One writers Dan Culyer and Ben Boorman attempt to do just that. In a daily countdown, they will formulate a list of the greatest drivers – past and present – in an attempt to decipher who is the greatest the sport has ever seen.

Whether it is Senna; or Schumacher; or Prost; or Hamilton; or Clark; or Stewart; or Vettel – be sure to keep an eye on proceedings at The Sports Lowdown, and as usual we would love to hear your views on our list, so any comments would be greatly appreciated.


View image | gettyimages.com

No. 2 – Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher is unquestionably the greatest racing driver of this generation. He redefined the limits of what was possible in a racing car, and his huge success is a result of talent, combined with hard work and an unfaltering passion for the sport. Even from his karting days when he was very young he showed very good speed and his talents were soon noticed as he began racing sports cars in DTM and many believed that he could make the breakthrough into the world of F1.

His chance fell to him courtesy of Eddie Jordan. Just before the start of the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, Jordan was left without a driver and bills still needed to be paid so Schumacher was drafted in by Jordan for that weekend, and he prepared for the Spa circuit by riding it on a bike before qualifying. In Qualifying he stunned the entire Formula One world by qualifying for the race in an astonishing 7th place on the Grid, and despite retiring on the opening lap of the race due to clutch failure, he had announced himself to the world and from that point onwards his Formula One career really took off.

But his display had interested other teams and Flavio Briatore snapped up Schumacher for his Benneton team for the rest of the season and beyond. By 1992 Michael had established himself as a competitive driver and on the anniversary of his debut in Belgium he won his first Grand Prix. He mastered the wet-dry conditions to win his first F1 race; his results finished him 3rd in the Championship only behind the dominant Williams-Renaults. It was more of the same in 1993 as he took his 2nd win in Portugal and finished 4th in the Standings.

At the start of 1994, Schumacher declared the Benneton ‘a championship winning car’. Indeed the German started out in dominant form as the Benneton-Ford proved much better initially than the Williams-Renault of nearest challenger Damon Hill, as Schumacher won 6 of the opening 7 races of the 1994 season. The only one race he didn’t win was arguably his best drive at the Spanish Grand Prix where he was stuck in 5th gear for the entire race but still lapped the car at normal race pace, everyone watched in admiration at the young German’s brilliance; however things started to change for the worst for the team.

At the British Grand Prix, Schumacher overtook Hill on the formation lap before the start of the race and then refused to give the place back to the British driver, then midway through the race he was given the black flag meaning he was disqualified from the race and given a suspended two-race ban. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that Benneton were using banned drivers aids like traction control which enables the driver to go through the corners at higher speeds, and also launch control which ensures the driver makes perfect starts at every race, and the team were forced to remove them or face exclusion. A few races later, when he won the Belgian Grand Prix, Schumacher was again disqualified when it was found that the skidblock underneath the car had worn away too much and Schumacher’s suspended two-race ban was enforced meaning Hill closed the gap on him in the championship down to just 1 point as they entered the final race of the year in Australia where more controversy followed. After leading from the start ahead of Hill, Schumacher hit the barrier on Lap 36 and damaged the suspension. As Hill attempted to go on the inside Schumacher covered the line and the two drivers collided, resulting in Schumacher hitting the wall and retiring from the race and damaging the Williams and Hill was also forced to retire later on handing Schumacher the his first world championship. There was outcry from the British media afterwards calling the German a cheat, despite Schumacher’s protests that it was a racing incident. Hill, in later years, has said that Schumacher deliberately tried to drive into him.

In 1995, heading into his Championship defence, Benneton also had the same Renault engine that Williams did and Schumacher used it to good effect as he took 9 wins and 11 podiums, clinching his 2nd world title. The season was remembered for more incidents with Hill, notably at the British, Belgian and Italian Grand Prix’s with Hill on all three occasions being labelled the instigator, perhaps as revenge for Australia the previous year. Also in 1995, Schumacher’s finest drive came in Belgium as he started 16th on the Grid, by the end of Lap 1 he was 10th, by Lap 5 he was 6th and eventually made his way to the front and was unchallenged as he won in such impressive fashion, and is remembered since as one of the greatest drives in the history of the sport.  Many felt the Schumacher-Benetton partnership could dominate the sport, but “Schumi’s” days there were over.

At the end of the year he decided to embark on the greatest challenge of his career, rebuilding the Ferrari team. Ferrari had not won the drivers’ world championship since 1979 and their stock and reputation had fallen dramatically since then and they were floundering in the mid-pack, but new Ferrari team boss Jean Todt asked Michael to join them and build Ferrari back into the dominant powerhouse it used to be. Michael agreed to join the Scuderia and brought Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne who he worked very closely with at Benneton over to Ferrari with him as the team began the rebuilding the legacy of the ‘Prancing Horse’.

In 1996, Schumacher suffered reliability problems early on as the team struggled to settle in, before he took his first win for Ferrari at the Spanish Grand Prix. In the rain he danced rain circles round the rest of the field as he lapped everyone apart from the 2nd & 3rd place finishers; many still consider this as his greatest drive. He went on to win the Belgian and then the Italian Grand Prix, winning his first Monza race in front of the Tifosi instantly earned him the affection of the Italian fans and although he finished 3rd in the Championship behind the Williams’ of Hill and Jacques Villeneuve he felt confident that the team were moving in the right direction.

For 1997 he started the season slowly with only 2 Podium finishes in the first part of the season but he hit a purple patch in the mid-season with stellar victories in Monaco, Canada, France and Belgium, before a fightback from Villeneuve evened out the title race, before Villeneuve was disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix which Schumacher won, meaning the German led by one point heading into the final race at Jerez, just like in 1994.

He took the lead at the start and stayed there until Lap 40 when his Ferrari developed a coolant leak which saw his lead evaporate until Lap 48 when Villeneuve caught him up. As they entered the Dry Sack corner on the back straight, Villeneuve dived up the inside, Schumi went to cut him off but the Ferrari just bounced off the Williams and into the gravel trap and out of the race, as Villeneuve finished 3rd to win the Championship. Afterwards the FIA deemed Schumacher to have deliberately attempted to take Villeneuve out of the race and was disqualified from the championship standings, serving the German a major humiliation in the world’s media who were all appalled by his actions at Jerez.

In 1998 the season looked bleak as at the start Ferrari were blown away by the new McLaren-Mercedes of Finland’s Mika Hakkinen which dominated the early stages of the championship, winning 4 of the opening 6 races. Then after winning in Argentina, Schumi launched a mid-season charge at McLaren with a hat-trick of victories in Canada, France and Britain, which he won in very bizarre circumstances, as 2 laps from the end, he received a stop-go penalty which he took on the final lap, but because he crossed the finish line before he served the penalty, he won the race in the pit-lane, a first in F1 history and so far never repeated.

Then Hakkinen fought back winning the next two races to extend the advantage before Schumacher produced a monumental drive to beat McLaren in Hungary. He also should’ve won in Belgium -he was a minute clear of the field when, in trying to lap Hakkinen’s teammate David Coulthard, he ran into the back of the McLaren taking them both out of the race. After making it back to the pits Michael stormed down to McLaren’s garage and accused Coulthard of trying to kill him as he was dragged away by Ferrari mechanics. He duly responded to this by winning in Italy to draw level on points with Hakkinen with just 2 races to go. Hakkinen responded by beating Schumacher at the European Grand Prix, meaning he carried a 4-point lead going into the final race in Japan. Schumacher started from Pole ahead of Hakkinen but then stalled the car on the Grid meaning he had to start from the back of the Grid, he drove all the way up to 3rd place before a puncture caused him to retire and Hakkinen was the champion.

1999 looked to be very promising for Schumacher as he took back-to-back victories in San Marino and Monaco before a serious crash in Britain left him with a broken leg and ruled him out of the title fight. He returned for the final two races, and showed that he had lost none of his speed as in Malaysia his first race back; he went onto pole position over a second faster than the rest of the field.

2000 was the year the dream finally came true, as Schumi finally win his 3rd world title and Ferrari’s first world championship for 21 years as he won 9 Races to earn the love of all of Italy. This started an incredible series of dominance as 2001 continued in similar fashion as Schumacher racked up another 9 victories to win his 4th Championship, breaking the all-time record for Race wins in the process. Then in 2002, he won a record 11 Grand Prix in the same season and won his 5th Championship finishing with double the points of his closest challenger, but controversy erupted again that season.

At the Austrian Grand Prix, his teammate Rubens Barrichello was leading Michael on the final lap at the final corner when Barrichello, under team orders, pulled over to let Schumacher win the race which caused disgust in the crowds as Schumacher was booed heavily on the podium and the Formula One paddock condemned Ferrari’s decision for their selfishness. Then later that season at the United States Grand Prix, with Schumacher leading on the final lap, he pulled up to allow Barrichello alongside him and the two Ferrari’s crossed the line together, with Barrichello winning the race by 0.011 seconds. It’s believed that Ferrari were trying to get a dead heat between the two but Schumacher insisted it was returning the favour from Austria.

In 2003, which was a much tighter season than the last two had been,  he managed 6 Grand Prix wins to do enough and win the title, breaking Juan Manuel Fangio’s record and become a 6-time world champion. 2004 was the pinnacle for Schumacher and Ferrari as they wiped away everyone else, Michael won 12 the opening 13 races of the season, the other was a DNF at Monaco which he still had a good chance of winning, cruising to his 7th world title, ending the season with 13 Race Wins and looked invincible.

2005 saw drastic rule changes which meant Ferrari’s dominance was no more. Schumacher only picked up one race win the entire season, in USA, and found himself outpaced and out-raced by the young talents like Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. In 2006, Ferrari found their edge again and despite only winning 2 of the opening 9 races, which saw Alonso open up a 25-point lead in the Championship, a second-half charge from Ferrari saw Schumacher win 5 of the next 7 races as he drew level with Alonso in the title race with 2 races to go before an engine failure in Japan handed victory to Alonso and, with it, the championship. At the end of the season, he decided to retire and said he felt satisfied that he had achieved everything he could in Formula One.

Then 3 years later, he returned with the new Mercedes Formula One team in 2010. He initially struggled for pace and form as he could not live up to his best from his Ferrari days and that form continued into 2011 as he still did not know how to perfect the new style of Formula One car and 2012 proved his last season in the sport, although he did finally collect a podium finish in Valencia that year.

Michael Schumacher is a special breed of driver that took the limits of not only driving but training to the next level. He was always regarded as the fittest driver as he pushed the boundaries of how to prepare physically for every race and the detail and work he put into the car, and Ross Brawn – who Schumacher worked with at Benneton and Ferrari – has often spoken about how Schumi would be the last one to leave the garage as he would always be looking to improve the car in every aspect day after day. It is this meticulous and perfectionist attitude which makes him the incredible driver he was. He has inspired the next breed of drivers: Button, Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel, Hamilton etc, to achieve the heights that he once did, and for that Schumacher is the legend he is today.

However, no driver splits opinion as much as Schumacher does: he was adored by the Germans and the Italians, but likewise was loathed by the Brits and the Danes, due to his intense rivalry with Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen respectively. During his racing days he was perceived by many as arrogant, over-confident and unsympathetic, and his tendency to do everything – and I mean everything – to win, leading him to overstep the line on many occasions. In his second stint in the sport, he somewhat eradicated these negative perceptions of himself, and was always polite, courteous, honest and respectful in interviews, and this helped endear him to more fans than he initially had during his Ferrari days.

If there is one criticism/ doubt you can have about Schumacher’s career, it will be about the way he was molly-coddled by Ferrari for many years, with the Scuderia team doing everything to ensure that Schumacher, and not his team-mate, is world champion. Their implementation of team-orders put many fans off the sport, some will say that his success is only a result of having the best car, with an uncompetitive team-mate. This is, of course, strictly not true, but a point can be made against him compared to other greats of the sport who had to race to beat competitive team-mates.

So yes, Schumacher did not have the global popularity of some other legends, but what he did was immense talent, an admirable work ethic, a high racing intelligence and a passion for the sport which allowed him to fulfil his potential. Without a doubt, the most complete racing driver in history, he is regarded by some as the greatest of all time, but despite him being second on this list, he remains a great of the sport, and his legacy will live on forever.



View image | gettyimages.com


Thank you for reading this article. Leave comments below.

@Dan_Culyer   @benboorman21

Tomorrow: Number 1 – ?

See also:

No. 3 – Juan Manuel Fangio – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-3-juan-manuel-fangio/

No. 4 – Lewis Hamilton – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-4-lewis-hamilton/

No. 5 – Jim Clark – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-5-jim-clark/

No. 6 – Alain Prost – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-6-alain-prost/

No. 7 – Sir Jackie Stewart – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-7-sir-jackie-stewart/

No. 8 – Niki Lauda – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-8-niki-lauda/

No. 9   – Sebastian Vettel – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/the-sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-of-all-time-no-9-sebastian-vettel/

No. 10 – Sir Jack Brabham – https://thesportslowdown.co.uk/2015/09/sports-lowdowns-greatest-formula-one-drivers-time-no-10-jack-brabham/


Benneton Ferrari Jordan mercedes Michael Schumacher

About Ben Boorman

Check Also


Hancock ends 21 year wait for Swedish GP victory

Embed from Getty Images   Three time world champion, Greg Hancock, has finally ended his ...