Michael Schumacher a Formula 1 great, if not the greatest of all time

Formula One World Championship

Michael Schumacher enjoyed more wins, more titles and more success than any driver in the history of Formula 1 but where he ranks in the pantheon of greats will be debated for decades to come.

To his fervent fans the seven time world champion will always be simply the best – a giant whose fame transcends the sport and whose name is familiar even to those with scant passion for motor racing.

‘Schumi’, ‘Schuey’, ‘The Red Baron’, ‘Der Weltmeister’ (World Champion): The German won an unprecedented 91 races and set record after record including five titles in a row with glamour team Ferrari between 2000 and 2004.

In 2002, Schumacher finished every race on the podium and statistically, stands in a class of his own.

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The prayers and tide of goodwill messages as the 44-year-old lies in critical condition in hospital in Grenoble after a skiing accident in the French Alps testify to his status and esteem in the sport and beyond.

It seems almost churlish at such a time to point out an alternative view, that his greatness was flawed by favouritism over team mates and a questionable sense of fair play with too many controversies.

The late triple Champion Ayrton Senna remains revered, despite the Brazilian’s own suspect behaviour on the track, and was mourned like no other driver after his death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Argentina’s five time Champion Juan Manuel Fangio and Briton Jim Clark were hugely popular, admired by team mates and rivals alike, while Ferrari fans adored Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve.

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Although Schumacher’s popularity in his native Germany was always unquestionable, bringing out the fans in droves even in his unsuccessful comeback years with Mercedes, it was far from universal.

“I think he is the greatest racing driver of this century,” his former Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said when the German announced his definitive retirement last year, an accolade that neatly sidestepped the sport’s first 50 years.

Even that assessment may be questioned sooner than anyone expected, with compatriot Sebastian Vettel this year chalking up his fourth successive title to become Formula 1’s youngest ever quadruple Champion.

With Ferrari in 2004, Schumacher had chalked up a record 13 wins including seven in a row. Vettel, still only 26, matched that total this year and also racked up nine successive victories.

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In truth, Schumacher’s career stands as a drama in two acts with a three-year intermission.

The Schumacher Mark II drove a gleaming silver Mercedes but was still a scuffed shadow of the shiny Mark I model, who dominated racetracks around the world in the colours of Benetton and then Ferrari.

In 2006, when he told the world at an Italian Grand Prix news conference that he had decided to retire as a Ferrari driver, it seemed like the end of an era.

In some ways it was. His Mercedes comeback produced just one podium finish, even if he looked as fit as ever, positively glowing with health and far more mellow in his attitude.

When he called time for good in Japan last year, looking forward to a new life with his wife and two children in Switzerland, there was more a sense of relief that he was getting out intact. The F1 world had already moved on.

Schumacher Singapore

“I have had my doubts for quite a while,” he acknowledged. “It’s time for freedom again.”

Self doubt was never a big part of the old Michael Schumacher’s make-up, even from the early days when his bricklayer father Rolf took him to the Kerpen Kart track near Cologne where his mother Elisabeth worked in the canteen.

He entered F1 in 1991 with Jordan as a late replacement for jailed Belgian Bertrand Gachot after a payment from Mercedes, who had contracted him for their sportscar team, eased his passage.

Schumacher had only ever ridden around the Spa circuit on a bicycle but his debut made everyone sit up and take notice when he qualified seventh. He was immediately snapped up by Benetton and the rest was history. By the end of 1994, he was a Champion.

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Schumacher II was softer, more prepared to admit mistakes. He became much more approachable than in the Ferrari days when his life seemed divided into compartments and nothing was allowed to interrupt his focus.

He even practised his Italian – something he rarely managed at Ferrari whose loyal ‘tifosi’ worshipped his success but often wished he would be a little less German.

“In my first career, as I entered into F1, immediately I had a lot of focus on me. So there was a constant demand and pressure on me that was difficult to cope with over the years,” he said last year.

“In that absence [from 2007 to 2010], I was more free and recharged myself…when I was back, I noticed it is possible to be open, to enjoy, but not lose the focus. And that is something I was not doing in the first part.

Motorsports / Formula 1: World Championship 2010, GP ofBahrain

“[In the second part] I had a bigger picture, I had more experience, it was much more easy to handle things.”

The controversies of the past continue to hang over his reputation like the mists that shroud his favourite Spa circuit in the Belgian forests. They always will.

There was the collision with Damon Hill in the 1994 title decider, the notorious attempt in 1997 to run Jacques Villeneuve off the road and the global scorn and outrage that followed Austria 2002 when Ferrari ordered Brazilian Rubens Barrichello to gift him an undeserved win.

On his day, and particularly in the wet, he was breathtaking. His mind-management, and ability to gel a team around him and give swift and incisive feedback, set him apart from the rest.

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But his achievements were countered by the feeling that he benefited from the best car and a subservient team mate throughout his Ferrari years, even if others argue that only happened because he was the best.

The 2006 Monaco Grand Prix saw him branded a cheat after a blatant attempt to block rivals in qualifying by stopping his car at the penultimate corner in the final seconds.

“I was very privileged to work with Michael from the very beginning,” Brawn said last year. “We had some fantastic times, tough times but also very successful times.

“I think Michael brought a lot to the team in his second period that people don’t see, a huge contribution behind the scenes…when we do achieve in the future, Michael will have made a contribution to it.”

Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 16 October 2011.

Mercedes finished the 2013 season as runners-up to Red Bull, with Schumacher’s reputation already going through a reappraisal.

So much so that when Lotus needed a replacement for Kimi Raikkonen at short notice late in the year, they even sounded out the 44-year-old.

“Michael’s performance against Nico and Nico’s performance against Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 Champion who replaced him made a lot of people aware of how good Michael still was,” said his spokeswoman Sabine Kehm. “But he just feels so good in his new life.” (Reuters)

Subbed by AJN.

  • O’Ferrari

    1. Schumacher and clark

    Beat Senna in his rookie year, while the brazilian was at his peak. Senna usually qualified better, but schu finished ahead. Senna made more errors when fighting schu than against anyone else.

    Pity we never saw them battle in 1995

  • Tamburello_1994

    ?

    Micheal came nowhere close to beating Senna in 1991

    1992 to MSC

    1993 to Senna.

    1994. . .

  • the fan

    schumacher and senna, the debate never ends…

    schumacher was just too technical like a machine working perfectly by a press of a button while senna is a more exciting driver to watch. unpredictable, much aggressive and has more feel of a driver. who among them is the best? my pick is Michael. though i will enjoy watching senna more.

  • Spartacus

    Let’s not bury Schumacher yet.

  • Sean

    It certainly is churlish, as you state, at this time to question anything such as the detail and comparisons you have drawn here, clearly to spark debate albeit at the wrong time.

    These things have been debated to death for years, and will continue to be debated for many years, maybe even decades to come. Although some people stances may soften dude to the nature of Schumi’s current plight, this is NOT the arena to drag this back up, giving trolls fee reign over the designation of without doubt, the greatest F1 driver to have ever graced the cockpit of a monoposty.

    To be honest., no one on any forum I have been on is interested in any comparisons or dragging up the past. Let’s just all focus for now on thinking positively for Michael’s recovery, and if you have a God, please take a few minutes now to ask for intervention for the quick and full recovery of Michael, if you don’t have a God, please send positive thoughts for Michael’s recovery.

    We are with you Michael, in thought or in prayer and everyone wishes you a fast and complete recovery..

  • O’Ferrari

    Sorry Tamburello, I meant first full season. I didn’t count the few races he did for jordan/benetton in 91.

    It was great to see a new talent, as prost was getting old, as was mansell and a few others.

    Senna was in his prime and a 22 year old came in and was immediately noticed.

  • the fan

    good news, last medical update says he is in stable condition though not yet out of critical state.

  • the fan

    spartacus…

    well not really burying the living. if thats the case then vettel should have been 10x dead in this forum.

  • Zombie Jebus

    Not sure why they all can’t be great. Even if my grandmother could have won the WDC in 2002 in the Ferrari.

    Mika too is right up there with Schumi, Senna, Gilles, Fangio, G. Hill, Clarke, Ascari, Prost, Vettel, etc…

    but if Alonso and Hamilton don’t have some major seasons soon, they’ll be on the second class list with JV, D. Hill, Button, Hawthorne, Schecter, etc…

  • matthew

    @zombie uh… 2nd place in a lousy car doesn’t count as a major season? O_o I don’t know what your smoking, but put it down for a bit buddy.

  • haha

    They were both greats together with Fangio and Clark. Stop arguing Ayrton and Michael did more for charity and the poor than any government did! Even a passed away Ayrton trough his foundation led by Vivian Senna and Alain Prost nowadays does more for charity than we do alive! And if you look at all the support Michael got in the last days it just shows how much of a legend he is and not was! I bet you none of the current f1 drivers has that much fans as schumi, even if he is retired. The support in front of the hospital shows he is still considered a Ferrari man. What he’s done for us tifosi is non forgetable. And if you like to argue, yes I was in awe of Fangio, G. Villeneuve and Senna because of their abiltity of really dragging a car by its horns around the track even in the worst conditions. Nowadays I only see that skill in Kimi, the sadly missed Robert and yes even Lewis on one of his good days. But that said Michael was mine and many their childhood hero. Michael and ,yes, Vettel are great in tneir own way because of their sheer determination, technical ability and their concistensy. Great drivers only win titles in good teams and vice versa but legends win or perform above the average in lesser cars. Senna in the Toleman and the Lotus, Schumi in the Jordan in Spa and then with Benetton, Vettel with Torro Rosso. And if you doubt about the last one, I saw the 2008 review again and their’s no doubt there, he will do the same as Michael and make Ferrari dominant again from 2015 or 16 together with Kimi and then Nico or Jules. Let’s just hope we can enjoy 2 living legends in 2014 instead of 1, thumbs up an fingers crossed for Michael who dedicated his 1st title to Ayrton and who cried like a child when achieving his amount of victories. This discussion is one for the bin.

  • haha

    Oh and Michael in the Red Bull at his comeback,he would have had his 8 and maybe 9 titles. Just look at his quali lap from Monaco, the guy was in his 40ies against the playstation generation who could all be his kids or little brothers, and he still was the fittest together with button and alonso.

  • Tamburello_1994

    @ My guy O’Ferrari

    Yea, I know what you meant but wanted to “towel-snap” you anyway :) Have a happy New Year, Slick!

    I would also say coming in second place is not a “major season” unless you’re a rookie. All second is – Is first loser. Nobody remembers who came in second. I totally agree with Zombie Jebus, Especially about Hamilton.

    For a myriad reasons, Senna will always be MY #1 ‘Nuff said.

    Lastly, My guy will always be Aryton, For a myriad of reasons.

  • Tamburello_1994

    Woops. sorry about the daily double!

  • Torque

    Michael Schumacher is the best of all time! Imho.

  • Hawk

    reads like a eulogy..
    these days no son of a bricklayer can make it to F1 even when performing miracles.
    Schumi Mark I was conditioned like a robot which reminds me of another multiple WDC I know. No twitter, no Fb, etc. only focus.

  • Red Horizon

    The title of the article says it all, there is not much to add. In truth I don’t think there is a real number one in F1, the drivers had different characteristics. Schumacher, however, is the driver who had revolutionized F1, his highlights were the incredible strength, concentrantion, lucidity and obviously speed during the race, but Senna remains the best in F1 in the ability to get the pole position and in wet conditions.

  • Forza Ferrari

    Schumi is the greatest of all-time, no doubt! During his heydays Schumi was the most complete racing driver ever. He was like Senna’s and Prost’s best qualities all in one person, blindingly quick and so amazingly smart/clever.

    Come on Champ, pull through it and take your 92nd victory!