A small tribute to Michael Schumacher
A lot has happened since that Grand Prix Friday in Belgium 1991.
It al started with a severe case of bad judgment on the part of one Bertrand Gachot. Giving a London cabdriver the mace-treatment, gave him some jailtime in a London prison, meaning his employer, Jordan F1, had to replace him for the Belgian GP. And Willi Weber spotted his chance, pitching one Michael Schumacher to teamowner Eddie Jordan. Allthough Jordan wasn’t convinced on the spot, an improvised testsession at Silverstone made Jordan decide in Schumachers favour. And from then on, the monster was released. Schumacher didn’t loose any time in building a name for himself. Putting the Jordan on 8th spot in qualifying, destroying his teammate Andrea DeCesaris. The race lasted about a couple of hunderd meters. On top of the Raiddilon the Jordan came to a sudden halt because of mechanical failure. The entrance however, was made. It took the F1world about one practicesession to meet Michael Schumacher in a way to never forget him again, no matter what happened.
Within the two weeks separating the Belgian GP from the Italian GP, Bernie Ecclestone urged Flavio Briatore, -then time Benetton teammanager- and Eddie Jordan to make a deal to place Schumacher alongside threetime worldchampion Nelson Piquet, swapping seats with Roberto Moreno. Schumacher went on showing Piquet his time was up.
1992, teaming up with Martin Brundle, showed Schumacher scoring his first victory. Exactly one year after his debutrace at the same Belgian track. Sure, both of the Williams cars had their problems, but Schumacher was right up there to pick up the rewards.
From then on, no season went by without a victory for Michael Schumacher. In 1993, Ricardo Patrese swapped the second seat at Williams for the second seat at Benetton. 1993 was the background for the final battle between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Not as epic as they were in the final years of the eighties, but nonetheless there were some tight moments. Schumacher operated in the limelight, taking the victory in Portugal, the race where Alain Prost took by terms of mathematics his fourth and final title.
In 1994 it was time for Michael Schumacher to take his leading role and aim at the title. He got his work cut out for him though. Ayrton Senna saw a yearslong dream fulfilled: a winning car at Williams Grand Prix. The Ford V8 against the unbeatable Renault V10. However, it seemed the Williams team had problems adapting to the new rules, banning al sorts of electronic aids. Ayrton was quick but to score any points. Uptill the fourth race in the season, Imola, Schumacher was well ahead in the pointstandings. We all know what happened during the race at Imola but it didn’t mean Schumachers run for the title was without obstructions.
A three race ban and a disqualification from his victory at the Belgian GP meant Schumacher had to take it down all to the wire. The final race at Adelaide was to decide the winner, Schumacher/Benetton or Hill/Williams. A controversial collision meant the title was for Schumacher. His first drivertitle. The first of many.
The second one came soon after. For the 1995 season, Benetton got use of the much desired Renault V10, the same spec as Williams were using at the time. Schumacher was unbeatable and at the GP at Aida his second title was fact.
Something else important, or in terms of the future even more important, happened during the 1995 season. At the Hungarian GP Ferrari and Schumacher announced their deal. Schumacher was about to step up to the challenge of giving Ferrari the driverstitle. Their first for over 16 years.
His debut was during private testing at Fiorano. Schumacher, clothed in a white, sponsorneutral overall, gave the Ferrari 412T2 a beating, commenting the car wasn’t as bad as he’d expected....
The 1996 season saw Schumacher teaming up with Eddie Irvine, who’d managed to catch Ferrari’s interest while racing at Jordan along side Rubens Barrichello. Starting a new partnership, with an all new engine, Ferrari was never in contention for any title in this season. They had a long way to go. Williams teammates Hill and Villeneuve were battling it out. Hill took the title and was subsequently sacked by his team.
1996 did give the Ferrari/Schumacher fans another important chapter for their historybooks. The spanish GP. On a soaking wet track, Schumacher showed why he is the one and only “Regenmeister”. His first victory at the wheel of a Ferrari and in a style which had become Schumachers trademark.
Time went on and in 1997 the Ferrari was good enough to take the titlefight to the very last race. This time however, it wasn’t to be. The Jerez 1997-incident was again a controversial one. Schumacher trying to hold Villeneuve from victory by punting him off the track. Schumacher was punished by those in charge, taking away his position in the standings. Only on paper however. His 1997 points and victories do count.
In 1998, perhaps Schumachers only true nemesis stepped up. Mika Hakkinen was fully recovered from his horendous crash during practice at the 1995 Adelaide GP and McLaren had put a winning car on the tarmac. Nor Schumacher, nor Ferrari was able to challenge and Mika Hakkinen took his first title.
Still Schumacher had not managed to clinch the drivertitle for Ferrari and time (or patience at least) was running out. Schumacher was employed by Ferrari at high (sponsor)cost and it was time they gained something from it. In 1999 the fight with McLaren picked up where it had left off in 1998. Both teams had to be at the top of their game, more then ever. A crash during the opening lap of the GP at Silverstone, left Schumacher with multiple fractures in his right leg and he was out for a number of races. Again no drivertitle? At least not for Schumacher, but Eddie Irvine stepped up to rise to the challenge. Helped by Mika Salo (amazing at Hockenheim, strangly off the pace at Hungary) Eddie kept up with Hakkinen in the McLaren. Ferrari needed something extra though, to keep that genuine shot at the title. Something extra, named: Michael Schumacher. They brought him back for the Malaysian GP and Schumacher drove circles around the entire field. As Irvine put it after his win: “Schumacher not only is the best first driver, he is also the perfect second driver.” A controversy about Ferrari’s bardgeboards was thrown out at the FIA’s headquarters in Paris, so again, down to the final race. Unfortunately, Irvine didn’t stood a chance against Hakkinen at Suzuka, and was soon after replaced with his former teammate at Jordan, Rubens Barrichello.
And so, the new millennium creeped upon us. Still no drivertitle for Ferrari. Constructors yes, driver, no. But what better season to do it in, than the first season of the new millennium? And sure enough, this time the fight between Ferrari/Schumacher, McLaren/Hakkinen was decided in the advantage of the first. Finally, there it was. After the 1979 title for Jody Scheckter, the drivertitle was back at Maranello. And as turned out, was back to stay...
In both 2001 and 2002, Ferrari were well ahead of the field and Schumacher retained the title.
2003 showed some cracks in the Ferrari-supremacy. At Hungary, Schumacher was actually lapped by none other than Fernando Alonso, who went on to win his first ever race that day. A protest by Bridgestone, concerning the construction of the tires of competitor Michelin however, brought a change in the balance of power. The 2003-title was also one for Schumacher to chalk up.
In 2004 it was back to the supremacy Ferrari-fans all over the world had come accostumed to, but in 2005 Ferrari were trailing Renault and Schumacher had to let the honors to Fernando Alonso.
And now we’ve come to the Italian GP 2006. Schumacher took his 90th victory and announced his retirement from racing.
A lot has happened since that Grand Prix Friday in Belgium 1991. A young Fernando Alonso had just celebrated his tenth birthday, the Ferrariseats were occupied by Alain Prost and Jean Alesi, most of the cars still had manual gearboxes. Fifteen years on, Michael Schumacher has 90 victories and seven drivertitles, with a good shot at eight. At october 22nd, at Interlagos Brazil, Schumacher will take part in his final GP.
A driver on top of any statistic imaginable but also often surrounded with controversy. A driver who was the benchmark for any other driver for well over a decade. What can one honestly say when such a driver announces his retirement? I can’t think of anything better then: Thanks a lot Michael, thank you for everything. Take care and good luck for your final three GP’s.
Whatever became of Bertrand Gachot? He was never able to gain any mentionable success when back in racing. He has made fortune in selling enerydrinks and is done racing.