Michael Schumacher is the most successful F1 driver ever, winning the most victories, most championship points and a record seven World Drivers' Championship Titles.
Schumacher began racing karts at the age of four and a half in a home-made kart built by his father, Rolf Schumacher, who managed the local karting track located in Kerpen, Schumacher's home town. He obtained his first license, and began racing competitively, by the age of twelve. Between 1984 and 1987, Michael won numerous German and European kart championships, including the Formula Konig Series. In 1988, Schumacher raced in the Formula Ford series, and over the next two years competed in the German Formula 3 series, winning the title in 1990. In 1991, he continued his ascent up the racing ladder, joining the Mercedes junior racing programme in the World Endurance Championship, winning races in Mexico City and at Autopolis, at the wheel of a Sauber-Mercedes C291. He also briefly competed in the Japanese Formula 3000 Championship and the German Touring Car Championship in the early 1990s.
Schumacher made his Formula One debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix as a replacement driver for the imprisoned Bertrand Gachot (incarcerated for spraying CS gas at a London taxicab-driver's face). Eddie Jordan signed Michael to his Jordan team at the Belgian Grand Prix, after Michael assured Jordan that he had vast experience in the challenging Spa circuit, with its brutal Eau Rouge corner, despite the fact that he had only been around the track once - and that was on a borrowed bicycle! Michael astonished everyone by qualifying seventh, in his first competition in an F1 vehicle. He was quickly signed by Benetton-Ford for the next race, and immediately showed great potential.
Schumacher consolidated as a revelation driver in F1 as he claimed his maiden victory in the Belgian Grand Prix with Benetton Ford. in 1992 finishing third in the final standings.
1993 was a year of great expectation for Benetton and Schumacher. The German won one race but was not able to challenge for the World Title as the superiority of the Benneton machine was not fully exploited. The year was once again dominated by Williams and only Senna, in an inferior McLaren, was able to regularly challenge Alain Prost, who had at his disposal the strongest package in terms of engine, chassis and specially electronics. Nevertheless this was a crucial year for developing the Bennetton machine as electronic launch and traction controls were incorporated into an engine control unit (ECU).
Schumacher won his first World Championship in 1994 while driving for Benetton in an extremely controversial season marred by allegations of cheating and the deaths of Ayrton Senna & Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
He won six of the first seven events. The raw speed of the Benetton was a surprise to the other teams whom started allegations of cheating, claiming Benetton had found a way to violate the ban on electronic aids that had been imposed by the FIA, including Traction Control, Launch Control and specially the adaptive suspension.
After Senna's death while leading the race at Imola, Damon Hill inherited the responsibility of fighting for the World Championship. Hill struggled to keep on pace with the Benetton with an inferior Williams, but due to several disqualifications and bans for Schumacher, he began to close the gap in the standings. Leading by a single point going into the final race in Australia, Schumacher clinched the title after crashing into Hill, putting both drivers out. He won the title thanks to that single point lead.
For 1995, Schumacher stayed with Benetton, whom had switched to Renault engines. He successfully defended his crown that season, accumulating 30 more points than the second placed driver, who was once again Hill. With teammate Johnny Herbert, he also helped Benetton win its first (and only) Constructors' Championship. In 1994 and 1995, his two first championship seasons, Schumacher won 17 races, achieved 21 podiums, and notched ten pole positions. During this span of 31 grands prix, only once did he qualify worse than fourth position, at the 1995 Belgium Grand Prix, where he started 16th on the grid but still managed to win the race.
In 1996, Michael signed a contract with Ferrari, which at the time was a highly risky move, given Ferrari's championship drought (the Italian giants had not won a title since 1979). In his first year at the Scuderia, he wrung the neck out of a very poor car and managed to finish 3rd in the driver's championship, behind only the two Williams' drivers.
In 1997 he again took the title fight down to the last race, narrowly leading the points for the drivers' title. Schumacher uncompromisely crashed into Jacques Villeneuve's Williams Renault after this one attempted to overtake him when the German left the door opened while braking in one of the curves of the circuit of Jerez. Despite the Ferrari was litterally thrown into the side of the Williams, it was the red car that ended on the gravel. A badly damaged Williams was driven by the Canadian Villeneuve winning the world championship, but despite the final result the German star was disqualified from the World Championship and all his earned points were lost by means of his lack of sportmanship.
In 1998, there were tyre rule changes in Formula 1 and Bridgestone had the upper hand on Goodyear. Also, McLaren emerged as the class of the field. It was left for Schumacher to challenge the McLaren domination and the season went down to the last race Schumacher won six races that year, the most memorable one being in Hungary where he pitted three times and had to do a whole stint lapping the Hungaroring circuit at qualifying speed, more than a second faster than anyone else to make up ground on the McLarens. Despite the inferiority of Ferrari, Schumacher pushed hard all the way until the final race in Japan, where, after having set the pole position, he stalled on the grid and had to start last then gaining lost ground in an amazing way but after a tyre puncture, caused by running over on track debris, he retired granting the title to Mika Hakkinen. Schumacher was not only stopped by bad luck but by David Coulthard, the Hakkinen's team mate, who, whilst in the dispute of the heavy rain affected 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, uncompromisely remained on the racing line while having a punctured tyre then making Schumacher to collide into him in the high speed pouhon curve ending his race and stripping him from vital points.
After several rebuilding years, Schumacher helped Ferrari win the Constructors title in 1999. However, his hopes for another Drivers' Championship were dashed at that year's British Grand Prix, where he broke his leg, after what was said had been a brake failure, causing him to exit the track while facing a high speed corner crashing heavily into a tyre barrier then being unable to compete for the next six races. After his return he even played second driver role to his team mate Eddie Irvine in order to favor his team's ambition of conquering a WDC, but once again they were beaten by Hakkinen in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
After years of frustration and after having reunited the best engineers, aerodynamicists and strategists, Ferrari finally gave Michael Schumacher the opportunity to take yet another World Championship title, and Ferrari's first since Jody Scheckter in 1979, after a thrilling year long battle with Mika Häkkinen. The fight was very tied and went down once again to the final race in Japan, this time, despite the early lead of Hakkinen who always had a better start at Suzuka, Schumacher finally beat the Finnish driver from McLaren Mercedes which caused celebrations from Tifosi around the globe.
While en route to his fourth drivers title, he broke Alain Prost's record for most grand prix wins. In a season which saw rival Mika Hakkinen performing at a lower level, he had no major threats, just some victories from David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen and specially the Williams duo of his brother Ralf and Montoya with whom had some in track moments.
In a dominant year, he easily took his fifth Drivers' title (equalling the record set by Juan Manuel Fangio) due to his driving talent and the sheer dominance of his Ferrari machinery, which won 15 out of the 17 races that season. Schumacher also broke Nigel Mansell's record of 9 race wins for most victories in a season, scoring 11 and finishing every race on the podium. Again just Williams's Ralf and McLaren Mercedes's Coulthard could take something from the all conquering Ferrari, Montoya remained someone to battle with, finishing third behind the two Ferraris and clinching 7 Pole positions with a special qualifying car, which sometimes was as fast as the Ferrari, slowing Schumacher's race for the other record he is close to reach, the 65-pole record from Ayrton Senna.
He broke Fangio's record by winning the Drivers' title for the sixth time in a closely contested season.
The biggest threats once again came from the McLaren Mercedes and BMW WilliamsF1team. His brother Ralf became a regular race contender and scored some victories and more so Juan Pablo Montoya, who was a fierce competition on track often taking the best of him, became a title contender in 2003 even stronger than Kimi Räikkönen as he had at his disposal the class of the field for some part of the world championship and scored a couple of victories, but Ferrari reacted from the Italian Grand Prix onwards and gained a slight car advantage allowing the German to win two more and decisive races. After Montoya was penalized in the US GP he was out of the title contention then it was just the Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen who was left, who, after brilliant and constant performances, in an inferior car, and after having benefited by an indulgent system of points, had mathematical changes until the final race although he had just a single victory to his credit, compared to Schumacher's six.
Schumacher started off the championship with typical domination, winning a record twelve of the first thirteen races of the season. He clinched the seventh drivers title of his unequalled F1 career where it all began for him — at the Belgian Grand Prix. Scuderia Ferrari, and in particular Bridgestone had been the key as the tyre was far away the superior to Michelin over the season. He would finish the season with a record 148 points.
The 2005 season was a struggle for Schumacher, as the Ferrari package was far from ideal specially their, in past years dominant and now inferior, Bridgestone tyres. Very soon in the year the German ace admitted he no longer had opportunities of fighting for the title. Despite this, Schumacher had some moments most notable his fight with Fernando Alonso in the San Marino GP and a pole in Hungary and ultimateley and most importantly he finished third in the World Championship standings, above Juan Pablo Montoya, with an inferior car. But his unsolit victory in the United States Grand Prix, which he almost certainly would not have won without the withdrawal of 14 cars due to Michelin's tyre problems, and the lessions, mechanical problems and other in-track issues for the Colombian are needed to be taken in consideration.
On September 25th, 2005, and after ruling Formula One as its champion for 1,813 consecutive days, Michael finally relinquished his crown to Fernando Alonso of Spain.
There were lots of on-track problems for the German including collisions with Takuma Sato and Mark Webber and of special note during the course of the weekend of the Chinese Grand Prix, which has proven a total disaster for him as he made all type of errors a driver can make. First he changed lines, while attemping to warm-up the tyres during the formation lap, causing the Minardi of Christijan Albers to smash heavly the rear and left sides of the Ferrari, thus having to start from the pit lane. During a neutralization lost control and spun off concluding in this way his, perhaps, worst season so far.
2006 would become the last season of Schumacher's racing career. Although he did better than in 2005, it still was not enough and he lost the title to Fernando Alonso in the last race of the season. After three races, he had 11 points and was already 17 points behind Alonso. He won the two following races, which were his first wins in 18 months barring the boycott-marred 2005 United States Grand Prix. His pole position at San Marino was his 66th, breaking Ayrton Senna's 12 year old record. By the Canadian Grand Prix, the ninth race of the season he was 25 points behind Alonso, but the three wins that followed helped him reduce his disadvantage to 11. After two races where his advantage was increased by one point, the victories in Italy and China made him the leader of the championship for the only time during the season. Although he and Alonso had the same points, Schumacher was in front because he had won more races. A series of misfortunes and problems would come and make him lose the title.
The Japanese Grand Prix saw Schumacher retiring after his first engine failure in five years with only 16 laps to go while leading the track. Alonso, who was behind him, would go on to win the race and almost the Championship, by getting a 10 point advantage before the last race of the season. The only way Schumacher could win the championship was if he won the race and if Alonso did not manage to score a single point. Schumacher himself conceded the title to Alonso after the race.
In the last race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, Schumacher finished fourth. Before the race he was awarded a trophy by football legend Pelé for his years of dedication to F1. During the qualifying session, he managed to get the best time of all drivers in the first two sessions, but a fuel pressure problem prevented him from completing a single lap during the third part, forcing him to start tenth. Schumacher managed to push forward early to 6th. However, after overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella, teammate of Fernando Alonso, on lap 9, Schumacher experienced a puncture caused by the front wing of Fisichella's car. Schumacher pitted and consequently fell to the 19th position and 70 seconds off team mate and race leader Felipe Massa. He managed to regain positions and challenge Fisichella and Räikkönen subsequently overtaking them to secure 4th place and setting fastest lap after fastest lap on the way. His performance at the last race of his career was classified in the press as an "heroic display", a "utterly breath-taking drive" and a "performance that sums up his career".
Since the 1994 death of Ayrton Senna, Schumacher has been widely regarded as the fastest driver in F1 and the most dominant driver of his era. However, his career has at times been controversial, with some commentators questioning his poor sportsmanship and driving tactics and the apparent standing team orders which would require his team mates to play a subservient role.
There's also some speculation FIA has taken more decisions favoring Ferrari/Michael Schumacher than otherwise. The 1994's incident with Damon Hill is a good example. Of course this holds little or no water at all, since there have been several FIA changes of rules over the past few years, mainly targeting Schumacher's and Ferrari's domination. In 2003, the FIA introduced the one-engine-per-weekend rule, which severely affected Ferrari, because they had already completed the design of their car using a larger than ever wheelbase and they also had to do away with their engine/gearbox compact project. In 2005, the FIA introduced the one-set-of-tyres-per-race rule, which played right into the hands of the numerous Michelin teams, and was the main cause of Ferrari's fall from grace.
For those who question his driving style the two most often quoted incidents are the previously mentioned 1994 Australian Grand Prix crash with Damon Hill and the 1997 European Grand Prix crash with Jacques Villeneuve. It is widely regarded that he deliberately crashed with Villeneuve during the 1997 European Grand Prix. However it should be noted that Michael drove in the same manner as the man he succeeded. Ayrton Senna was guilty of similar incidents in final races with his nemesis Alain Prost.
In the 1994 Australian Grand Prix Schumacher was leading Damon Hill, but just barely; if Hill had won the race, he would have won that year's World Championship. During the race Schumacher made an error and ran wide, which led to an overtaking maneuver by Hill into the subsequent corner. Schumacher turned into the corner and collided with Hill, in the process crashing into the barriers and breaking Hill's front left suspension. Both cars were removed from the race, which was eventually won by Nigel Mansell, who was too far behind in the points to challenge Schumacher's title lead. In this case it was judged a racing incident and Schumacher took his first title. Although this accident was the deciding event of the 1994 championship, Schumacher at that point had the right to close the door and stick to his racing line; as many F1 pundits noted, Hill should have been aware of Schumacher's injured car and should have waited for a better opportunity to pass. It is important to note that without Schumacher receiving 2 race bans and 2 race disqualifications, the race title would have never been closely matched.
Although it could always be argued (these sporting situations are always subjective...) that Michael ran wide, as did Hill interfering with Schumacher's recovering line and the collision was deemed a 'racing incident'. It is also worth clarifying that the FIA conducted a full investigation into the 'Hill' incident before announcing an outcome.
During the 1997 European Grand Prix Schumacher was leading the race and was followed by Villeneuve. In a similar situation to 1994 a win for either driver would guarantee him the World Championship. Villeneuve attempted to overtake Schumacher, who then collided with the Canadian in what the FIA finally judged to be dangerous driving. Although Schumacher's car was knocked out of the race, Villeneuve went on to finish third, behind Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard, who were too far behind in the points to challenge Villeneuve for the Championship. Schumacher was stripped of his second place in the World Championship final standings (with Heinz-Harald Frentzen moving from third to second), while retaining his results and points for the season, in a bizarre and unprecedented decision that was widely criticized as representing no real punishment at all.
Schumacher in the Paddock at the USGP in 2002During Schumacher's reign of consecutive World Championships many fans were put off by his dominance of F1 and there was particular attention paid to how Schumacher and his Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello were swapping finishes to engineer specific changes in the World Championship.
A good example of this was the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix where Ferrari ordered Barrichello, who was leading the race, to move over for Schumacher to take the win. This led to a poor reception on the podium where an embarrassed Schumacher ushered Barrichello onto the top step. The result was a ban on team orders and a $1 million fine for Ferrari ($500,000 to be paid immediately, with the remainder remitted subject to "good behaviour" during the next 12 months). Nevertheless, team orders are at times practiced by many teams and can be executed discreetly, despite team orders were officially banned by the FIA , but have been openly used, even during 2005 Formula One Season by Renault and McLaren. But Schumacher has also played the game in benefit of his team-mates when necessary. An example of this is the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix where Schumacher gifted victory to then teammate Eddie Irvine to give him a chance of winning the world championship.
It has also been argued that unlike some of the great drivers of the past, Schumacher has not had much of a challenge from within the team. During much of his time at Benetton he was consistently dominant over his team mates, and since moving to Ferrari, his team has guaranteed he is given a clear Number 1 status. Furthermore, his dominance over his team-mates spans across his 14-years career, including Brundle, Irvine, Barrichello, Verstappen, JJ Lehto and Herbert. This dominance was much more evident in qualifying, where team-orders do not apply. In the early years of his career, when cars were more difficult to handle because of the lack of the sophisticated electronics and TC systems, Schumacher was often 1,5 seconds on average faster than his team-mates, over an entire season, sometimes more.
In more recent years, however, his success with Ferrari, moderation of his on-track tactics, and a more relaxed public persona have rehabilitated Schumacher's image for most fans, although the collisions with Hill and Villeneuve have not been forgotten by many Formula one fans, who usually are quick to point out poor sportsmanship.
As of the end of the 2006 Formula One Season, Michael Schumacher holds the following F1 records: