Auf Wiedersehen Michael Schumacher
Not to coin a phrase, but it's the end of an era. With the finish of the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher ended the greatest Grand Prix career of all time.
Schumacher’s F1 racing career began in 1991. That winter, F1 driver Betrand Gachot was arrested for using pepper spray on a London cabbie. Gachot and team owner Eddie Jordon were convinced that the penalty would be a simple (if large) fine. At the trial, just prior to the Belgian Grand Prix, Gachot was sentenced to eighteen months in jail. Jordon was suddenly in need of a new driver.
Michael Schumacher’s manager Willi Weber approached Jordon. He regaled the team owner with stories about his young German client, an impressive member of the Mercedes Benz junior team in the World Sportscar Championship. Jordon was suitably impressed. He wanted to sign the speedy youngster to a three-year deal. Showing incredible business sense, Schumacher and Weber negotiated a temporary race contract. It’s been speculated (but never confirmed) that Eddie Jordon required a $400k “deposit” from Schumacher for the drive in the Belgian Grand Prix.
In qualifying, Schumacher beat his vastly more experienced teammate Andrea De Cesaris by 1.5 seconds to qualify in seventh place. Schumacher’s actual race lasted only a few hundred yards; his car’s clutch failed almost immediately after takeoff. And yet his performance was so impressive that Weber’s phone began to ring off the hook. While Eddie Jordon thought his new star had signed a binding contract, Schumacher’s manager and Flavio Briatore, the managing director of the Benetton team, thought otherwise. By the next race, Schumacher was comfortably ensconced in the cockpit of a Benetton-Ford. The German driver proceeded to take the checkered flag nineteen times and secure two World Championships in four years.
In 1996, Schumacher took the biggest chance of his career: moving to Ferrari. While Ferrari was the most prestigious Formula One team with a budget as large as any, the “prancing horse” had been little more hobbling since Jody Scheckter’s 1979 title. Schumacher’s defection was a group deal. He brought his Benetton team of Brit Ross Brawn (technical director) and South African Rory Byrne (chief designer) with him. Under the management of former Peugeot front man Jean Todt, the pieces finally fell into place.
With the exception of 1990, Ferrari had not won more than three Grands Prix in a single season since 1983. In 1996, they won three races. In 1997, they won five. Schumacher’s single-mindedness, the designs of Rory Byrne, the tactics of Ross Brawn and the overall management of John Todt made Ferrari serious championship challengers. Schumacher’s accident at Silverstone in 1999 certainly cost him a championship. In 2000, at Suzuka, the Tifosi finally realized their dreams of a world championship.
Success did not diminish Schumacher’s hunger for victory or his determination to achieve it. He was as joyous on the podium of the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix (his first win) as he was at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix (his last win). After his engine expired at Suzuka this year, he went to each and every member of the Ferrari team, shook their hands and thanked them. From a man who almost certainly lost the World Championship, it spoke volumes. Is it any wonder why he commanded such love and respect from his colleagues? He will be missed.
Michael Schumacher holds the following records: most world titles: 7 (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004), most consecutive titles: 5 (2000-2004), most wins: 91, most wins in a single season: 13 (2004), most consecutive wins in single season: 7 (2004), most wins at the same race: 8 (French GP), most wins with one team: 72, most wins from pole: 40, most pole positions: 68, most front-row starts: 115, most podium finishes: 154, most second place finishes: 43, most points scored: 1,369, most points finishes: 190, most points in a single season: 148 (from a maximum of 180, in 2004), most fastest laps: 76, most fastest laps in a season: 10 (from a maximum of 18, in 2004), most races led: 141, most laps led: 5,108, most consecutive podiums: 19 (USA 2001-Japan 2002), most consecutive points finishes: 24 (Hungary 2001-Malaysia 2003), most consecutive seasons with a win: 15, most ‘clean sweeps’ (pole, win, fastest lap): 22, largest points gap between champion and runner-up: 67 (2002), earliest title winner: 2002 (in July, with 6 races remaining), longest spell with one team: 11 seasons (Ferrari – 1996-2006), most time between first and last race wins: 14 years, 1 month and 1 day, never out-qualified in 1992, 1993 or 1994, only driver to have finished every race on the podium: 2002 (Stats from ITV-F1.com). Such is Schumacher’s domination of the record books that he has one less win (91), than the second and third total winners combined (Prost 51 and Senna 41).
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