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Michael Schumacher: The Rookie
Michael Schumacher made his F1 debut in the 1991 season, and right from the beginning, he made enough waves to be noticed. His debut with the Jordan team itself was drawing in publicity, one part because he was German and there was no German in F1 for a long time, and the other part because of his driving skills; of course, the world got to know about the latter quite quickly.
Take a look at the perky Schumacher from his 1991 debut:
Schumacher, unlike most F1 drivers, had a stint with multiple championships including F3, F3000, World Sportscar Championship and the like. The varied experience helped him in his F1 career for sure, like in the 1994 Spanish GP, where he preserved his car and finished on the podium despite being stuck in the fifth gear; a skill he attributed to his Mercedes Sportscar days.
Despite being in a slow Jordan, he qualified in the seventh position on his debut qualifying run. For a comparison of Schumacher’s performance, the Jordan until then would qualify P10 and lower. So, a P7 was an instant testimony to his speed and agility.
How Good Was Schumacher Back Then?
Having entered F1 for the very first time, there was not much expected from Schumacher. However, less expectation did not hamper him from going for the win all the time. In the 1991 season itself, once Schumacher switched to Benetton, he qualified P5 in the Spanish Grand Prix and almost stormed into second place.
Have a look at this video from the 1991 Spanish GP.
The video showed Schumacher overtaking the third-place car which was driven by Nigel Mansell, while the second-place car that he almost passed was driven by Ayrton Senna, the reigning world champ. Senna went on to win the 1991 season. What was impressive was that Schumacher was already challenging the F1 greats of the time, and he was just two races old.
All these exploits of Schumacher made him quite visible to the entire F1 fraternity; not to mention the F1 bosses of leading teams.
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Then Why Did McLaren Not Speak to Schumacher?
Until 1991, McLaren was one of the dominating teams with Senna and Prost having served the team in the recent past. While all the great guns of F1 were talking to Schumacher, it was quite odd that the McLaren team never tried to bring Schumacher to its fold. Or did they?
In an informal setup in 1993, Ron Dennis did ask Schumacher to come about and take a look at how the McLaren team works. That was probably the only sign of Dennis and McLaren’s inclination towards having Schumacher on their side.
The audio is quite good in the video below. Have a listen:
It was quite an exciting exchange. Maybe there were more behind-the-scene talks, but then we wouldn’t know. In many ways, Dennis' admiration of Schumacher's ability cannot be missed: “horrendously impressive”. Personally, I think Schumacher misunderstood the compliment and hence the question if there was some problem with him.
So, here’s the only occasion where McLaren did try to get Schumacher to their fold. We know that it did not work, as the very next year Schumacher won his first world title with Benetton and then in 1995 again. The rest is history with Schumacher moving to Ferrari and remaining there as a title rival to the McLarens.
On a side note, it does make one wonder why the Williams team never approached Schumacher. Or they also did it, and we do not know? Whatever the case, more than the McLarens, Schumacher ruffled the Williams team’s feathers more often as a rival; on a lighter note.
Back to the Garage
We can only guess what trajectory Schumacher’s career would have taken had he joined the Williams or the McLarens team. Maybe, he would have won more championships or perhaps not. We will never know.
But one thing is for sure, Schumacher would have been the most sought-after driver during his career. It was just the Benetton and the Ferrari teams which eventually got to work with him.
© 2020 S K