Michael Schumacher - A Brief Biography

Michael Schumacher was born on the 3rd of January 1969 in Hurth-Hermulheim near Cologne, Germany. He was brought up by parents Rolf and Elisabeth in the nearby town of Kerpen where they became the managers of the local karting centre. It was in the competitive but accessible world of kart racing that Schumacher, in common with many past F1 champions, took his first steps to the very pinnacle of motorsport. In 1984 he became the German Junior Karting Champion and finished second in the Junior World Karting Championship.

In 1986 Schumacher graduated to the senior championship, finishing second in the domestic series and third in the Eurochampionship final. 1987 was Michael's final year in kart racing and he left on a positive note, taking both the German and European Championships at Gothenburg, Sweden, ahead of drivers such as Alessandro Zanardi,Karl Wendlinger and Emanuelle Naspetti.

Schumacher spent 1988 competing in the new German Formula Koenig Championship, a form of single seat racing in which the cars had Fiat engines and rear wings, and the Formula Ford 1600 Euroseries. Becoming champion in the former Schumacher also had great success in the latter series. He came second overall, driving for the Van Diemen team.

1989 was another rung up the ladder as Michael progressed to the German Formula 3 Championship. Partnering Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Reynard team he scored two Championship wins to finish second in the series behind his team-mate. In 1990 he went one better; winning the title with five Championship victories. In the same year he also competed in the World Sportscar Championship for Mercedes; finishing fifth in the series in a drive shared with ex-F1 driver Jochen Mass. More success came with two wins in International F3 at Macau and Fuji, again for Reynard.

Schumacher made his breakthrough into F1 in 1991. The precursor to this was his continuing success in Sportscars and a second place finish in his F3000 debut for Ralt-Mugen at the Sugo All-Japan GP. Impressed by what he saw there Eddie Jordan invited Schumacher to deputise for the imprisoned Bertrand Gachot at the Belgian GP. Michael didn't waste his chance.

F1 Debut with Jordan

Michael made a spectacular debut in Formula One. Having driven a Formula One car for the first time on the Tuesday before the race, his qualifying position of seventh was remarkable. It was even more remarkable if you consider it was the first time he had visited the track! Although he retired in the race on lap one with a clutch problem, he had made a significant impression on the Formula One circus. So much so, that by the next race he was now driving for Benetton.

With Benetton - 1991 to 1995

Many discussions took place between Spa and the next race, which was at Monza over where Michael would be driving for the rest of the 1991 season and subsequent seasons, with both Jordan and Benetton claiming that he would be driving for them. Eventually things were sorted in Benetton's favour, with Michael signed up for the remainder of 1991 and several subsequent seasons. Again he impressed, outqualifying triple World Champion Nelson Piquet, and scoring his first points as he finished fifth. A couple of sixth places topped off the remainder of the season.

1992 was a learning year - learning to cope with a new team mate, learning to drive new circuits, and learning to cope with new expectations from others in terms of results. He learned well, and managed to score a podium finish in only his eighth race, as well as a front row grid position in only his tenth race, only Nigel Mansell's dominant Williams-Renault faster. He was involved in an incident with Ayrton Senna during a test at Hockenheim just before the German Grand Prix. A misunderstanding occurred between them on the track, leading to Michael brake-testing Senna. Ayrton apparently didn't like this too much and grabbed Michael by the throat when he returned to the pits in front of a group of journalists. McLaren mechanics prised Senna off, with Michael saying that maybe Ayrton wanted to give his neck a massage! Michael's first win in Formula One came in only his eighteenth race, involving both skill and a bit of luck as he understeered off the circuit, but avoiding the barriers, continued on, and as he saw the condition of team mate Martin Brundle's tyres, decided a change to slicks was the right thing to do. This allowed him to build up a lead which no-one was able to conquer. After a close second in the final race of the season in Adelaide, he finished third in the World Championship, a tremendous achievement in only his first full year of Formula One.

1993 was a disappointing year in many ways, with many good qualifying performances thwarted by a lack of reliability with the car. He was set to win in Monaco when a '50 cent' part failed, causing hydraulic failure. Also, a problem with the traction control system led to lost places at the start of at least two races, possibly costing him victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. A string of podium finishes, as well as another win offset that to an extent, bringing him fourth in the World Championship.

1994 was a tumultuous and tragic year. Tragic, with the deaths of the rookie Roland Ratzenberger and the brilliant triple World Champion Ayrton Senna at Imola, as well as the crash of Karl Wendlinger at Monaco. Tumultuous, as allegations of traction control were levelled at the Benetton team, the passing of Damon Hill on the warm-up lap at Silverstone and then not responding to the black flag, Verstappen's pit-stop fire at Hockenheim, the 'too-thin' plank at Spa and finally the collision with Hill at the final race of the season at Adelaide topped off a season full of ups and downs as he won 8 races and became World Champion. It was a year that many thought would be dominated by Senna, but it was not to be. Michael himself believed that this may well have occurred, with a statement made during a post-race interview at Adelaide saying he would like to give the World Championship to Senna. In Barcelona, Michael finished second in what was probably his best ever drive, as for three-quarters of the race the car was stuck in 5th gear. It was only the combination of the flexibility of the Zetec-R engine, Michael's skill as well as some of the techniques he had learned in Sports-Prototype racing to maximize corner speed that allowed him to finish the race so well.

1995 started off controversially when both Michael and David Coulthard were disqualified from the Brazilian Grand Prix over fuel irregularities. The FIA's subsequent decision over the appeal confused the teams as the drivers got their points back while the constructors didn't! When Michael crashed at Imola, speculation from the press said he had 'cracked' under pressure. The next few races certainly did not provide any more evidence of this being the case. Another collision with Hill at Silverstone lead to speculation of a bitter feud between Michael and Damon, which both parties denied. A wet and dry race at Spa led to more sparks as a minor clash between the cars when Hill on wets tried to pass Michael on slicks in wet conditions at Les Combes, as well as claims of blocking only led to further claims of a feud, not helped at Monza when Hill and Schumacher went off again together. The remainder of the season was reasonably uncontroversial, as Michael took 3 wins, including one at the Nürburgring where he charged from 40+ seconds behind to win the race, after passing Alesi around the outside with just 2 laps to go. Winning 9 races for the season, equalling Nigel Mansell's 1992 record, becoming World Champion for a second time, (the youngest double champion), as well as helping Benetton secure their first Constructors' Championship, in a car many acknowledged was not as good as the Williams, made the achievements even more meritorious. In fact, it will be a year that he may well find hard (if not impossible) to beat.

With Ferrari - 1996 to 1998

1996 was an interesting year. Could Michael retain the title and make it three in a row for only the second time in the history of Formula 1? How well would 'rookie' (though 1995 IndyCar World Series Champion) Jacques Villeneuve, and more importantly, how well would Damon Hill do? Would he win the championship? Would he keep his Williams drive? There seemed to be more worries during the season off the track than on it! Despite little pre-season testing, the two Ferraris occupied the second row in Melbourne, with Eddie Irvine becoming only the third driver to outqualify Michael (each doing so only once). However, the car was not fully sorted and ran several of the early races with parts from the '95 car in the interests of reliability. Still, Michael ran remarkably close to the lead in Argentina, Nürburgring and Imola, with Nürburgring being a highlight as he pushed Villeneuve hard for 2/3 of the race. Then came Monaco and the meeting with the Armco... Barcelona was the exact opposite, as Michael absolutely demolished the opposition, with a fastest lap more than 2 seconds faster than anyone elses! Unfortunately this was followed by a period of unreliability, the worst being the engine detonating on the warm-up lap of the French Grand Prix, after Michael had managed to set pole! Finally at Spa and Monza things turned better, as he won both races, with the tifosi going beserk for the first Ferrari victory at Monza since 1988. A third, and then second at the final race rounded off a reasonably successful year - not as successful as some hoped, but as successful as could be expected in the circumstances.

1997 was both a success and a failure. A success, with Michael nearly winning the title, but a failure in the end when it was not realised (and also the way the battle ended). After up and down early season form, which netted Michael two second places and a fifth, Michael drove a dominating race in a wet Monaco to take the Championship lead. Barcelona was a poor race (for a change), but Michael then won the next two races, having a little bit of luck in Montreal. Then at Silverstone, while leading (partly due to a problematic pit-stop for Villeneuve), a wheel bearing failed. A second at home, followed by a tyre-chewing fourth in Hungary, had Michael in a position where a good run by Villeneuve would see the championship head Jacques' way. At Spa, however, this was not to be, as Michael proved his superiority in a wet-dry race, winning by almost half a minute. Monza saw little change to the situation, however Austria and Luxembourg saw Jacques' chances rise as he took two wins while Michael finished sixth in Austria (thanks to a yellow flag infringement) and was damaged beyond repair in a first corner incident at Luxembourg (involving the two Jordans). A strange race at Suzuka, as Jacques held the field up after being suspended due to a multiple yellow flag violation, only for Jacques to be overtaken by Irvine. Michael then got through on Jacques (just!) at the first pit stops, with Eddie handing over to Michael, with Eddie running interference (literally). Michael went on to take the win, leaving him in the lead (just!) as they entered the last race. After everyone overcame the shock of the first three drivers qualifying with the same lap time, the race started, with Michael holding a slim but 'safe' lead over Jacques. Just after both drivers seconds pit stops, however, Jacques closed in, with Jacques making a late dive at Dry Sack corner. Michael, partly surprised, first turned away, then turned in, the two cars touching. Michael finished in the gravel, while Jacques continued on to take the championship. Despite 5 wins, the year would be remembered by many people not for the fight for the title but instead for the incident at Jerez. Despite the incident however, Michael's drives during the year, particularly at Monaco and Spa showed he was still the one to beat.

1998 was similar in that Michael was again in contention for the title, but again it was not to be. But after the first race in Australia, the odds on anyone other than either of the McLaren drivers winning the title must've been extremely long! Brazil was slightly better, the McLarens still dominating but at least Michael took third. Action in Argentina including some argy-bargy saw Michael take the win, followed by a closing-in second place at Imola. Monaco was a low point, with contact with Wurz during an overtaking manoeuvre leading to rear suspension damage and a finish out of the points. Canada was a race full of incident, Michael taking the win after run-ins with Frentzen and Hill, including a ten second stop/go penalty. Another win in France followed, amid controversy over the decision to restart the race, which (luckily) benefitted the two Ferraris. At a very wet Silverstone, Michael won again after a safety car, a pass under waved yellows, the leader spinning then falling off the track, and a stop/go penalty that was taken...or was it? And was the penalty applied correctly? It was decided that although there was a penalty to be taken, it had been given too late and was therefore anulled, meaning that Michael could keep the win. Austria saw Michael fight for the lead with Häkkinen before making an unusual error and falling off the track, damaging the front wing, leading to Michael fighting back through the field to eventually take third place (with a little help from Eddie). Germany was a shocker, fifth being Michael's weekend work, while the next race was the exact opposite, Hungary seeing Michael and Ferrari put one over the McLarens. Spa is probably best forgotten - at least, the race after lap 24 - while Monza was a place to rejoice as both Ferrari drivers and Schumachers stood on the podium as Coulthard's exploding engine led to Michael passing Häkkinen for the lead and consequently the win. Luxembourg saw a better result than 1997, however, Michael's early race lead turned into a Häkkinen win by the end of the race. Suzuka was a race of highs and lows - highs for Häkkinen's Championship and Michael's fight back through to as high as 3rd place; lows including two restarts, including Michael's 'stall' and the tyre failure which was caused by an impossible move by one backmarker on another. At least there was no contact between the two title contenders, apart from a congratulatory handshake after the race! 6 wins saw Michael once again get desperately close, driving the wheels off the car throughout the year, but the McLarens were just too good too often, especially the one driven by Mika...maybe 1999 will see salvation for the faithful followers.