Andrew Szekler writes about the excitement of Formula One racing.
For more than a decade Michael Schumacher was the most successful F1 driver in the history of the sport. In the last few years, Lewis Hamilton succeeded in equaling and often surpassing the records of Schumacher, but as a fan of the sport, I have to say I never really felt that Hamilton, apart from his own fanbase, received the same adoration and respect as Schumacher. I only started to regularly follow the sport in 2003, and it was the 2005 season that I watched from start to finish, but during those years, the biggest part of the fanbase regarded Schumacher as a cut above the rest, and it was only in 2006 that finally Fernando Alonso was elevated to that status, as an equal of Schumacher.
This respect for Schumacher did not come out of the blue, as he put in some memorable drives during his 15 years career between 1991 and 2006, and even despite his less successful return to the sport in 2010, he remained a legend.
1994 Brazilian GP
When Ayrton Senna signed for Williams in late 1993, most people expected that he would walk away with the title in 1994. With his great rival, Alain Prost, retired from the sport, people thought Senna would have an easy time. Still, if there was one man who potentially could have made Senna’s life difficult, it was the young Michael Schumacher.
The season began in Brazil, and as expected, Senna was in pole position. Schumacher was lining up alongside him on the grid, and the two of them seemed to be in a league of their own, miles faster than anyone else. Senna had a better start and kept his lead, while Schumacher dropped behind Alesi, but then quickly dispatched the Ferrari and closed up to Senna.
Schumacher had a quicker pit stop when the two entered the pits and took the lead from Senna. Surprising everyone, Schumacher then started to pull away from his rival and pulled a 10-second gap during the middle stint of the race.
Things turned around after the final stop of the two, and Senna started to close back on Schumacher. He closed back the gap to five seconds, but he pushed too hard and spun out of the race with 16 laps to go. With Senna out of the race, Schumacher cruised home to take the win a lap ahead of Senna’s teammate, second-place man Damon Hill.
2000 Japanese GP
Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen had a fierce fight in 1998 for the driver’s world title. The duel between the two of them continued in 1999, but Schumaker's unfortunate accident at the British GP, where he broke two bones in his leg, interrupted his season. Schumacher returned for the last two races of 1999 and looked as fast as ever.
The duel between the two continued in the 2000 season. Schumacher had a rocket start to the season and won the first three races, though in two of these it was the retirement of Hakkinen that allowed Schumacher to win.
Schumacher had awful luck in midseason, and three retirements in the French, German and Austrian GPs saw his lead evaporate. Hakkinen overtook Schumacher in the standings with his win at the Hungarian GP and even extended it with another win at the Belgian GP. Schumacher closed back with a win at the Italian GP and retook the lead in the standings with his win in America, where Hakkinen also had to retire with an engine failure.
Schumacher arrived in Japan having an eight-point lead, and a win would have clinched him the title. He edged Hakkinen by 0,009 seconds in the qualifying in a thrilling session.
Still, Hakkinen neutralised Schumacher’s pole position by his usual rocket start and took the lead straight away. The two looked closely matched, but Hakkinen was edging away from his rival before the rain arrived. The rain was not heavy, but the mixed conditions suited Schumacher a lot more than Hakkinen, and he closed up to his rival. He passed Hakkinen after his second stop and never looked back. Schumacher went on and won the race to win his first title for Ferrari, and the first title for Ferrari since 1979.
1998 Hungarian GP
McLaren looked utterly dominant at the beginning of the 1998 season, and after six races, Mika Hakkinen looked like a safe bet for the championship. But Michael Schumacher was not giving up just yet, and using the bad luck of Hakkinen, the rain and his incredible driving skills, he took three straight wins in Canada, France and Britain.
Then Hakkinen made a comeback and won the next two races to open up his lead to 16 points again. Hakkinen was on pole again for the Hungarian GP, followed on the grid by his teammate Coulthard and Michael Schumacher.
Hakkinen maintained his lead at the start and pulled a slight gap from Coulthard, who in turn pulled a slight gap to Schumacher. Initially, all three were on the two-stop strategies, and the McLarens had a slight edge on Schumacher. Hakkinen slowed down midway through the race with electric problems and started to hold up Coulthard. Ross Brown saw an opportunity and switched Schumacher to a three-stop strategy with 31 laps to go.
Schumacher emerged in front of Coulthard who had made his last stop on lap 46. Hakkinen by this stage was dropping back badly and was not a factor in the race win. Schumacher was leading, but he had to make another stop, so on paper Coulthard looked stronger. However, Schumacher started to pull away at a massive rate and by the time he made his first stop, such was his lead that he maintained the first position.
It was a very impressive drive, as during his third stint Schumacher had to pull a 25-second gap in less than 20 laps, and in the process, he broke the lap record more than 10 times.
Schumacher won the race, while the unfortunate Hakkinen finished only sixth, which meant that Schumacher closed Hakkinen’s lead to only seven points.
1996 Spanish GP
Schumacher surprised the world of F1 after he announced that he would join Ferrari for the 1996 season, leaving Benetton, with whom he had won two titles in 1994 and 1995.
Schumacher’s start to the 1996 season was solid, but he did not look like he could trouble his old rival Damon Hill who was the dominant force of F1 at the beginning of the season. Schumacher scored two impressive pole positions in San Marino and in Monaco but failed to convert either into his first Ferrari win.
Williams looked utterly dominant in Barcelona, and Hill and Villeneuve locked out the front row of the grid. Schumacher was in a comfortable third place, but he probably knew that in a dry race he stood no chance of troubling the two Williams Renaults.
Luckily for him, the race was not dry, but it was held in torrential rain. Hill chose a dry setup, for whatever reason, and had a horrid start and quickly crashed out of the race.
His teammate Villeneuve took the lead from him but he did not hold it for long as Schumacher was on fire. The Ferrari man first passed Jean Alesi for a second, then passed Villeneuve for the lead on lap 11. He never looked back from there and started to pull away from the field. By the end of the race he had a massive 40-second lead and was the class of the field despite running into engine problems at the end.
It was Schumacher’s first win at Ferrari, and he showed the world why he was known as the Rainmaster of the grid.
1994 Spanish GP
After Senna’s tragic death at the San Marino GP, Schumacher looked utterly dominant in Monaco, and the same pattern continued during the Spanish GP.
He took a dominant pole position from Damon Hill and was easily pulling away from the field in the opening phase of the Spanish GP. Out of nowhere, Schumacher slowed down, and Hill and Hakkinen started to pull back on him. Hakkinen and Hill eventually passed Schumacher after lap 22. Graphics showed the telemetry of the Benetton not much later, and astoundingly it appeared that Schumacher was stuck in 5th gear. Commentators dismissed the graphics as they found that it would have been impossible for Schumacher to run the pace he did, which was a lot slower than his initial pace, but faster than what it should be for a car stuck in 5th.
In reality, the graphics were right, and Schumacher was truly stuck in 5th gear and managed to finish the race in the second position while he was stuck in 5th, an astounding achievement, a drive that for me was the best of his illustrious career.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Andrew Szekler