TOP 10: Moments of Michael Schumacher brilliance
Michael Schumacher did some magical things in Formula 1 cars – of that there is no doubt. But, as with any great driver, there are some moments that transcend more than others, moments where all that greatness is focused through a prism and out onto the racetrack. In a career spanning 19 seasons, seven world titles and 91 race victories, it wasn’t easy, but we’ve gathered our pick of the 10 finest drives from Michael Schumacher’s career, counting down from 10th to first...
10. The final ‘pole’ – Monaco Grand Prix 2012
It’s a bit cruel, really, that one of the final flashes of Michael Schumacher brilliance – his pole position lap at Monaco in 2012 – didn’t actually result in him starting on pole. A race before, Schumacher had clashed with Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix, wiping both cars out of the race and earning Schumacher a five-place grid drop for the following Monaco Grand Prix. Schumacher, canny old campaigner that he was, knew the absolute importance of track position at Monte Carlo, and duly gave it the full works in qualifying to stick his Mercedes on pole ahead of the Red Bull of Mark Webber by 0.08s, before his grid drop hobbled him down to sixth.
Why I picked it: Sure, it was a shame not to see Schumacher starting on pole one last time – but how fantastic it had been to see the old magic flashing around Monaco once more.
9. An über-pass on Alesi – European Grand Prix 1995
Conditions at the 1995 European Grand Prix – held that year at the Nurburgring – were pretty grotty, with so much rain having fallen that the usually pristine grass looked more like a chewed up rugby pitch than racetrack greenery. In the Grand Prix’s closing stages, Ferrari’s Jean Alesi – despite running on a set of knackered out Goodyears – appeared to be en route for his second career win. But with two laps to go, the fast-approaching Schumacher unleashed a lunge around the outside of the Frenchman through the mud-strewn chicane that was so millimetrically perfect in its execution that only a handful of drivers in F1 history could have hoped to have pulled it off. The pair’s cars enjoyed the sweetest of embraces before Schumacher pushed on into the lead, going on to claim his 17th career victory and edge closer to his second straight title. “I had to decide to stay in second place or to push to win,” said Schumacher after the race, “and my fans pushed me to try and win the race.”
Why I picked it: We all know that Schumacher’s on-track moves were sometimes boundary-distorting – but even Alesi couldn’t begrudge him this beauty. “His move was completely correct,” he graciously conceded after the race. “If we touched a little, it was just because there was nowhere else for the wheels to go.”
8. Runner-up in a fixed gear Benetton – Spanish Grand Prix 1994
Had it not been for the Spanish Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher would have won the first seven races of the troubled 1994 season. But as it happened, the exertions it took for him to finish second in Barcelona were arguably more impressive than those six other victories. Having beaten Damon Hill to pole by a comfortable 0.651s, Schumacher appeared to be cruising to win number five of the year in the race when his gearbox threw in the towel. Left to tour around the Circuit de Catalunya in fifth gear only, Schumacher used all of the knowledge that he’d built up saving fuel in sportscars to coast the car round, the Ford engine bogging down horribly in the slow corners, while Schumacher was forced to feather the throttle down the long Barcelona straight to keep the needle out of the red. Schumacher wound up finishing the race a creditable 24 seconds down on Hill, the Englishman busy at the head of the field recording the first victory for Williams since the death of Ayrton Senna.
Why I picked it: Fittingly, there were echoes of Senna’s body-breaking drive to victory at Brazil in 1991 in the sheer bloody-mindedness of Schumacher’s display in Spain that day. Properly heroic stuff.
7. Win 1 of 91 – Belgian Grand Prix 1992
Michael Schumacher’s first victory in F1 was, uncharacteristically, borne from a mistake. Running in third place at the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix – just his 18th start in Formula 1 – Schumacher slewed off the track at Stavelot on lap 29 of 44, allowing his Benetton team mate Martin Brundle past into third place. Rather than wasting energy ruing the error, Schumacher clocked the blistering on Brundle’s rear tyres after falling in behind him and immediately came into the pits for fresh slicks. It was a decision that was two laps shrewder than the leading Williams runners, allowing Schumacher to take the lead from Nigel Mansell on lap 34 and check out for his maiden win, the first for a German in F1 since 1975.
Why I picked it: Schumacher was an operator, pure and simple, and his decision-making in Spa that day was a perfect example of what separates the great from the very good in Formula 1. “The car ran superbly,” said fourth-placed Brundle after the race, before adding regretfully, “but I was a lap or two too late going back onto slicks… I was in two minds and it cost me the race.”
6. The final fling for Ferrari – Brazilian Grand Prix 2006
There was a lot going on for Michael Schumacher when he turned up to the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix. It was set to be his final race for Ferrari, and his final race in Formula 1 – and yet a win for the German, if Fernando Alonso failed to score, would have given him a record-expanding eighth title. A fuel pressure issue at the start of Q3 left Schumacher down in 10th on the grid, while a puncture on lap nine eviscerated those dimming championship hopes. But the indefatigable Schumacher gave the Scuderia and their tifosi something special in his final appearance for the team, blasting back from P20 to P4 by the race end, having unleashed a series of bold overtakes as he clawed his way through the field.
Why I picked it: Schumacher’s years of seemingly robotic brilliance at Ferrari tended to make people forget what a great racer lurked underneath that famous helmet. Brazil ’06, in his last outing in red, was a fantastic reminder.
5. The Bertrand Gachot stand-in makes his mark – Belgian Grand Prix 1991
In the same way that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane, so too can a canister of CS gas unloaded into the face of a London cabbie launch the career of an F1 great. Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot was the unloader in this strange-but-true case, and his two-month stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Brixton jail meant that Eddie Jordan needed a replacement driver for the Belgian Grand Prix. A young Mercedes sportscar racer called Michael Schumacher got the nod – Jordan charging Schumacher’s management team a reported £150,000 for the pleasure – and sensationally steered the absurdly pretty Jordan 191 to seventh on the grid in his F1 qualifying debut. A star was born.
Why I picked it: Schumacher’s first Grand Prix weekend was team mate Andrea de Cesaris’ 166th, and yet the German qualified four places higher and almost eight-tenths faster than the Italian. Utterly remarkable.
4. Metronomic brilliance in Budapest – Hungarian Grand Prix 1998
Ross Brawn opting to run a three-stop strategy at the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix in a bid to defeat McLaren was clever, bold… and utterly sadistic. Basically, in the muggy Hungarian heat, Brawn was asking his driver to bash out qualifying laps for an hour and 45 minutes to make the strategy viable. Fortunately for Brawn, his driver was Michael Schumacher, with Ferrari’s technical director able to call on all of the German’s exceptional speed and stamina to help topple their rivals. Schumacher executed the strategy to a tee to take one of his most emotional victories, and help bring himself back into title contention – for that moment, at least – with Mika Hakkinen.
Why I picked it: The brain of Brawn and the brawn of Schumacher working in perfect harmony. You can see why they were such a potent partnership…
3. Super Schumacher at Spa – Belgian Grand Prix 1995
Although Spa witnessed both Schumacher’s Grand Prix debut and maiden F1 win, arguably his finest hour at the circuit came in 1995. Starting P16 after a crash in practice left his Benetton mechanics struggling to give him a functioning B195, Schumacher speared through the field in the opening part of the race. In the lead by lap 16 and with rain falling, the slick-shod Schumacher then enjoyed a titanic fight with Williams’ Damon Hill, on wet tyres and going some six seconds a lap faster than him. Schumacher’s blocking tactics left his rival enraged– and earned him a suspended one-race ban – but his control in the damp conditions, on the wrong tyres, was masterful. When the track then dried and Hill was forced into the pits for slicks, Schumacher’s gamble to stay out came good, leaving him to take victory by nearly 20 seconds.
Why I picked it: The full Schumacher gamut: absolute driving excellence, a superhuman overcoming of adversity and a touch of pantomime villainy all thrown in together. If you want one race that sums up the career of Michael Schumacher, look no further…
2. A crushing return – Malaysian Grand Prix 1999
Just under 100 days after breaking his fibula and tibia at Silverstone, Michael Schumacher was back in a Ferrari – and straight back on the pace. Having missed six races, Schumacher knew that his job at the first ever Malaysian Grand Prix was to shepherd Ferrari’s remaining title contender, Eddie Irvine, to the win… but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a little fun first. In qualifying, rather than playing himself in gently, Schumacher grabbed his F399 by the scruff of the neck and wrestled it around the newly-laid Sepang track almost a second faster than anyone else, in what was a staggering return display. Come the race, an obedient, loyal Schumacher then played the unfamiliar ‘Number Two’ role impeccably, allowing Irvine to slip through for the lead and then toying with his rivals behind as he yo-yoed out the gap between them at will.
Why I picked it: Okay, so Irvine got to enjoy his day in the Malaysian sun. But Schumacher’s stunning performance on Saturday after months out of the car left no one in any doubt that the big dog at Ferrari was back.
1. The best wet drive of all time? – Spanish Grand Prix 1996
They say a beautiful F1 car is often an effective one – but the opposite can be true as well. The 1996 Ferrari F310 had looks only a myopic mother could love – and its on-track performance wasn’t much better. “I said to Michael [after the car was launched], ‘This thing looks worryingly different from everybody else’s car,’” remembered Eddie Irvine years later. “And it was. It was just a disaster. That year, [Michael] did an amazing job to drive that thing, because it was a piece of junk.” Junk or not, the torrential rain at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix played perfectly into Schumacher’s hands. Having qualified a distant third to Damon Hill’s Williams in the dry on Saturday, on the stinkingly wet Sunday, Schumacher was mesmeric, launching into arguably one of the single greatest drives in Grand Prix history to win out by over 45 seconds from closest rival Jean Alesi.
Why I picked it: A truly shimmering performance that comfortably ranks alongside the best of Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Senna et al…