Every sport have their greatest athletes in a generation or of all time. Football has the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and the ever-going debate over Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Basketball has Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Steph Curry. Golf has Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros. Each sport have their ‘GOATs’. Motorsport and Formula 1 have theirs as well, and a selected few have been called that title.
Each generation has a driver who is often the top dog, and often in their time has been labelled as the best in the sports history. For long after the sports’ formation in the 1950’s, Juan Manuel Fangio was hailed as the benchmark with his five world titles and being the godfather of the sport he dominated in. Throughout the decades, nobody could beat his five. Some came close like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, but they could never reach that limit and cement themselves as the greatest of the sports’ history. But in the 2000s, one man surpassed that record and set a new benchmark for the sport. His name was Michael Schumacher.
Everyone knows the Schumacher name. Michael placed his legacy in the sport with Benetton and Ferrari by winning seven world championships in his tenure between 1991 and 2012. He revived the Scuderia Ferrari dynasty between 2000 and 2004 by winning five consecutive titles, creating a legacy that will live long in the history books. His speed and domination was only matched by the few towards the end of his career and set a new standard for the next generation of racers to chase.
On the 3rd January, he turns 50 years old and tributes have been made for the German has he recovers from his skiing accident back in December 2013. F1 has released a special podcast dedicating to Michael with Ross Brawn, the man who oversaw his success with Benetton and Ferrari. Michael’s charity, the Keep Fighting Foundation, have released an official Michael Schumacher App that showcases a virtual museum of his success in the sport. Ferrari have also opened a special exhibition of Schumacher’s success with the Italian team at Maranello, Italy.
For many, Michael was more than just a racing driver. He was an inspiration for many and showed the world that anything is achievable if you believe in it. Many today still attend races with Schumacher banners and merchandise. He left his print in the sport for many decades to come. Outside of the sport, he was very private. He was not like most sport stars where their every move was captured in newspapers and magazines. He kept his private life, private. He lived in his private home in Switzerland with his wife Corrina and two kids, Gina-Marie and Mick. He would often spent his time horse riding and even owned a ranch in Texas. He was also an avid football fan and often played in charity football matches.
His impact on the sport left many calling him the greatest ever. Rivals respected him. Juan Pablo Montoya labelled him as a ‘target’ for the top, knowing if you want to be the best, you had to beat Michael and that was easier said that done. He became the image of Formula 1 and an icon. Not just for the sport, but for his home country of Germany.
Michael arrived into F1 in 1991 with Jordan Grand Prix at the Belgian Grand Prix. His impressive debut attracted the eyes of Benetton who signed him up the following race, where he would stay at the team until the end of the 1995 season. At the time, Michael’s home country, Germany was coming off the back of the Cold War where the country was physically divided into two by the Berlin Wall.
A united Germany was something that had not sunk in yet for the German people and for most of the 90s and 2000s, it was something that people were terrified to think of a strong, stable Germany. But what Michael was achieving at the sport during the time created a unity and power within the German people, to show support to their hero. A German racing driver who became the man and poster boy of the country. The German stands were filled with Schumacher flags and colours and when he made the transition to Ferrari, the German people began to bring the German flags with them to races.
He helped unite a nation on the back of a physical divide and gave pride to the German people again. He was more than just a racing driver to them. He was an aspiring figure. A God to some. He brought belief to his home and to the people of Ferrari. He gave them hope again after spending decades on the back foot against their competition for so long. His belief made them into one of the most dominant teams in the sport today and Michael never said a bad word about Ferrari. When Michael left, Ferrari’s success faded away against rivals like McLaren and Mercedes. But Michael’s impact and records he set are placed in the history books, and can aspire the team again to reach the glory days once again. The team now has another German superstar in Sebastian Vettel, who himself was aspired by Michael’s legacy in the scarlet red Ferrari.
Every legend has their controversial moments and Michael isn’t short on the list. Nobody is perfect in this world and the will to win in sport always keeps the drivers and athletes hungry. Adelaide 1994 was the scene where he captured his first F1 title, but that wasn’t without making contact with title rival, Damon Hill. He also made contact with a title rival again in 1997. But it was Jacques Villeneuve who escaped the accident and ended the year champion, whilst Schumacher was disqualified from the championship altogether for attempting to cause an accident in Jerez. His antiques during qualifying for the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, where he parked his Ferrari to prevent Fernando Alonso from taking pole position was iconic from probably the wrong reason.
Legends make their own mistakes and do whatever it takes to win. That’s what drives sportsmen and women. The will to win. Schumacher was like that at the beginning of his career before he forged his own legacy in F1. He revolutionised the way F1 drivers are today with the level of fitness. Schumacher often use to work out and during the early years at Ferrari, would have his own personal gym with him. His attention to detail when it comes to set-up work on the car helped him deliver the best performance every time he hit the track.
His legacy will live long into the history of the sport. Some of his records may have been broken with the next generation of talent coming up through the ranks, but his impact on the sport will be remembered by fans for years and decades to come. His records of 91 wins, 7 world titles, 155 podiums, 79 fastest laps and most wins in a season (13 in 2004, tied with Sebastian Vettel in 2013) are some of the main records he still holds today. In 2017, his record for the most pole positions (68) which he held onto for 11 years was broken when Lewis Hamilton surpassed it at the Italian Grand Prix. Hamilton currently has 83 poles as of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
From my perspective, I’ was born in 1996. The same year Michael started his time with Ferrari after winning two titles with Benetton. I grew up watching F1 since the early 2000s, the years when Michael started to truly dominate the sport. To be honest, I was never a fan of Michael at the time. In fact, it was annoying to see him win so often and have little competition. I liked variety. I liked that someone else would win and for it not to be predictable. As time went on, a few years later after Michael had retired the first time, I began to understand that what Michael achieved and set in the sport was special. My Grandad had old VHS tapes from old F1 videos and most of them featured Michael. I began to understand his career and his style of racing compared to the likes of his rivals like Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. He was something special and I soon I appreciated the success he achieved and glad to have witnessed history in F1 as a kid.
His records will be broken at some point in the future, but it doesn’t take away the memories and the stories of what he has achieved in his time in F1. His impact has touched the hearts of fans and supporters around the world and is among one of the greatest sportsmen and women to ever live. The Schumacher legacy will live on in the sport, and with his son Mick coming up through the ranks. A new chapter of the Schumacher name could begin very soon. Everyone hopes that Schumacher will recover from his skiing accident with #KeepFightingMichael ever present on Social Media. But 50 years today, a boy in the town of Hürth, West Germany was born. The boy who would grow up to be one of the greatest drivers the world has ever seen.