Michael Schumacher: The Human Side of the Great German
It would be very easy for me now, to write a piece on how Michael Schumacher's comeback was a total disaster and he should have stayed away from racing. However I feel that ground has been covered fairly well by other people, so I have decided to take a look at a few of the more emotional moments of the great German's career.
There is something of a myth that still surrounds Schumacher of him being an ice cold individual. His actions at Adelaide 94, Jerez 97, Monaco 06 and Hungary 2010 has created the image of a man only driven by winning. His determination to win is legendary but it is sometimes forgotten that Schumacher is still a human being behind the visor.
1994 San Marino Grand Prix
The race everyone wishes never happened.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. I have written about this race before, but only looking at Ayrton Senna and his final days with us.
The death of Senna at Imola in 94 suddenly changed everything as Schumacher suddenly became the main attraction. At this stage in his career, having only won four grand prix, Schumacher was not only the championship leader but the main star of the field with the grand prix world in turmoil.
There was a deep respect between the two and Schumacher was moved tremendously by Senna's death. The degree to which Senna and his legacy meant to Schumacher became very public years later.
1998 Belgian Grand Prix
The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix is famous for two specific events. The first of which was the huge first lap pile up on the drive down to Eau Rouge. The second was when Schumacher ran into the back of David Coulthard costing Schumacher almost certain race victory.
Schumacher's ability in the wet is quite legendary and at Spa that day he was on fine form again. Schumacher was winning by a country mile in heavy rain when he came up to lap Coulthard, who had not only triggered the first lap crash, but had various other adventures throughout the day.
Coulthard lifted off to let Schumacher through but didn't move off the racing line and Schumacher, unable to see clearly due to the rain, slammed into the Mclaren, removing Schumachers front left tyre and suspension. Schumacher had lost an almost certain 10 points.
Conspiracy theorists could say that due to Hakkinen (Schumacher's championship opponent) being already out of the race, Coulthard may have been trying to take him out on purpose. I think Coulthard just made an error in not moving off line to let him through. Suffice to say Schumacher was absolutely livid.
Schumacher got back to the pits, parked his car and went storming down to the garage and accused Coulthard of trying to kill him. He later calmed down and admitted Coulthard wasn't trying to kill him and Coulthard sort of admitted responsibility.
2000 Italian Grand Prix
The 2000 Italian Grand Prix was marred by the tragic death of Paolo Ghislimberti after a huge first lap crash which took many people out of the race. Despite this, the race continued and Schumacher won his 41st career victory which meant he drew level with the 41 wins of Senna.
Now the post race conference is a fairly tedious affair with obvious questions being asked and drivers giving answers. However, in this instance the interview suddenly became a rather voyeuristic experience as Schumacher broke down in tears.
Such an outpouring of emotion caught everyone by surprise, but was totally understandable. As I said earlier, Schumacher had a great respect for Senna and was closer to the accident that took the Brazilian's life than anyone else and it just got a bit too much for him at that moment.
It wasn't until later that he found out about the death of Paolo Ghislimberti during a paddock interview at which point he stopped the interview and went back to his motor home.
Apart from his display of complete fury at Spa in 1998 this is probably the most emotion shown by Schumacher on camera.
In all honesty it was a moment I had rather not have seen on camera; emotion like that should be private.
2000 Japanese Grand Prix
The relief of finally winning his third world championship was clear in the cockpit with Schumacher slamming the steering wheel and led to a rather obscenity filled radio message. But after coming so close in 97 and 98 and just being pipped at the post and then being denied the chance in 99 due to his accident at Silverstone, the relief to have finally done it must have been huge.
Not only was it a relief to have finally won his third world title but the Ferrari team finally got that monkey off their backs. No one could have expected that this was the beginning of an era of Schumacher and Ferrari domination.
2001 Italian Grand Prix
This race makes the list more for the event leading up to the race than the race itself.
The 2001 Italian Grand Prix was the first Formula 1 race since the tragic events of 9/11 and the awful accident at the Lausitzring in an Indycar race which cost Alex Zanardi both legs.
Schumacher, who had dominated the 2001 season, was no where near his best, easily beaten by his team mate Barrichello and finished a rather unspectacular fourth place. It is almost certain that the tragic events affected Michael more than others and he simply wasn't in the correct mindset to race.
Once again another example that behind the sometimes rather cold and calculating exterior is an actual human being.
2002 Magny Cours
The day Schumacher equalled Fangio's record five world championships was a great day for the German. His manic weaving of the car as he crossed the line and his body language whilst climbing out of his Ferrari showed a man utterly elated.
There were many who thought Fangio's record would never be equaled let alone beaten. Schumacher is never going to win the popularity vote for the greatest driver ever so statistics are his main case for being the best.
Taking that championship record from Fangio and then increasing it to seven is a real marker for the next generation to attempt to reach. If anyone is going to do it out of the current crop it will be Vettel, as I can't see the others having either the time or the car to consistently push for the world title.
2003 San Marino Grand Prix
The weekend of the 2003 San Marino Grand Prix was a tragic one for the entire Schumacher family with the death of Ralf and Michael's mother. Unlike the 2001 Italian Grand Prix, Michael managed to put his emotions aside and won the race in fine style. Michael was excused the usual media trappings but did make an appearance on the podium where he seemed, understandably, distraught.
In many ways I consider this win one of Michael's finest, because being able to put the tragedy of his mother's passing aside and go on to win is a feat of incredible mental strength. It was also badly needed as Michael had an appalling start to the 2003 season with only eight points after the first three races. With the pressure on and with the passing of his mother, Schumacher really did come back on form.
2006 Italian Grand Prix
Winning a race for Ferrari at Monza must be won of the great experiences in life.
Schumacher won his 90th race at Monza in 2006 in his final year with Ferrari. He subsequently announced his first retirement after the race; it really was something of a perfect moment.
At that point it gave Schumacher a real chance of winning his eighth world championship. Sadly, Schumacher just fell short of winning the championship but had an excellent season and it would have been the perfect way for the German to leave the sport.
2010 Bahrain Grand Prix
The only viable reason for me to put this race in this list is that it was the first race in Schumacher's comeback. I honestly believe he just missed the sport and his passion to push himself wasn't gone. He needed to know whether he still had it and coming back was the way to find out.
It was a moment of great hope to see if the legendary German still had the same "magic" as before. Sadly, it didn't turn out to be as successful as many had hoped, but seeing the German back in the sport was a great moment for both him and his fans.
2012 Monaco and Valencia Grand Prix
The two times we saw the old Schumacher return throughout his comeback were in Monaco and Valencia of 2012.
Seeing him claim pole position in Monaco (despite then having his five place grid penalty) was a great moment for both him and his fans to see him beat the whole field in one lap again.
At Valencia, back on the podium, his third place message on the radio and his behaviour on the podium showed a man who was absolutely delighted. He came so close in Montreal in 2011 that I personally thought we would never see him on the podium at all in his come back. So to see him get there once was fantastic for his fans.
2012 Brazilian Grand Prix
The phrase "passing of the torch" is used rather too often, but in Brazil there was a moment which really seemed like one of those moments. Schumacher making way to allow Sebastien Vettel through was something of an amazing moment to see as Schumi allowed his young protege through to aid his bid for Vettel's third world title.
Michael never reached the heights of his first stint in Formula 1 but I enjoyed having him back. In my view it was like seeing an old rock band. The magic of the first time may not quite be there but it's still a pleasure to watch them perform.
I hope he has an excellent retirement and enjoys the remainder of his life
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