We check out Schumacher’s history as he prepares to hit Bahrain...
Time Out Bahrain staff
As racing legend Michael Schumacher returns to Formula 1 following a self imposed absence of three years, the racing world will be holding its breath to see if this seven time world champion still has what it takes to claim yet another title, or if his reputation will be tarnished following his long hiatus from the sport.
With seven world titles and 91 career wins to his name, 72 of which occurred with Ferrari, Michael Schumacher is statistically one of the greatest racers of all time. 68 pole position starts and 76 fastest lap records seal his reputation as one of the legends of the modern motorsport era. At one point the highest paid driver in Formula One and the second highest earning athlete in the world, making an estimated $80 million a year in 2004, Schumacher’s level of fame has yet to be achieved by any other driver. This racing legend’s trophy cabinet is lined with the likes of ‘Most Consecutive World Championship Titles,’ 76 fastest lap records and 250 completed Grand Prix races. The 2002 season saw Schumacher finish every single race on the podium, winning the title with six races to spare, while 2004 saw him claim the record of the most successive race wins (seven).
However, the German’s long career has been marred by several controversial races, the least of which saw him vilified by the media and most serious resulting in disqualification. Deliberate crashes, erratic manoeuvres, malicious driving and questionable team orders are just some of the labels Schumacher has acquired during his chequered career.
Disappointment at Ferrari
Following Felipe Massa’s horrific accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix which saw the Brazilian hospitalized, many thought Schumacher would abandon his consultancy position and reassume his rightful place behind the wheel of Ferrari’s Formula One car, of which he has been part of for the last 13 years of his racing career. Indeed, Schumacher’s competitive fire was reignited at the possibility of returning to racing as the process of getting him back behind the wheel were initiated by the team as no other alternative presented itself to replace the hospitalized Massa. But his hopes were dashed thanks to a reoccurring neck injury leaving the German devastated and bitterly disappointed as his dreams slipped away after being so tantalizingly close. Being involved in the action, thrills and adrenaline rushes without being in the driver’s seat ultimately proved too much of a hardship for the Formula One legend, as he relinquished his multi-purpose role as consultant, ambassador and test driver for the road car branch of Ferrari and re-entered the world of competitive driving.
Schumacher’s Controversial Past
The Australian Grand Prix saw a young Schumacher leading Damon Hill by one point in the final race of the 1994 season. Then on the 35th lap, the German, who was renowned for his control and skill behind the wheel, allowed his car to spin out of control and collide with the barrier before returning to the track, still leading hill by a small margin. On the next turn as Hill attempted to pass Schumacher’s damaged car, the two drivers crashed resulting in the German’s car tipping up on two wheels, resulting in instant elimination, while Hill retired to the pit lane with irreparable car damage. Schumacher was accused of foul play as, by taking himself and Hill out of the race, neither driver scored any points and thus allowed the German to claimed his very first World Championship title by just one point.
During the final race of the 1997 FIA Formula One World Championship at the European Grand Prix in Jerez, Schumacher once again had the lead by one point, with William’s driver Jacques Villeneuve trailing him on the track. On the 48th lap as Villeneuve attempted to pass the Ferrari driver on the dry sack corner of the Spanish based circuit, suspicion was raised when Schumacher’s seemingly deliberate actions resulted in the front wheel of his car colliding with the left side pod of the Williams car. While the German was forced to retire, Villeneuve still managed to cross the finish line in fourth place and thus claimed the 1997 title. As Williams celebrated their World Championship title, Schumacher’s actions, while deemed not to be malicious or pre-mediated, were found to be a grave error in judgment resulting in the first disqualification of a driver from the Formula 1 Championship.
The Canadian Grand Prix of the 1998 World Championship saw Schumacher’s reputation as a hot headed, dangerous driver confirmed yet again as his exit from the pit lane forced William’s driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen off the track and into retirement. While Schumacher claimed perilous driving from Damon Hill was the reason for his actions, many F1 insiders claimed this as a ploy to pull attention away from his own mistakes during the 1998 season.
Fans watching the 2006 Austrian Grand Prix were baffled by Schumacher’s antics when he abandoned his car on the racing line following a minor bump at the first corner. It was later established that the shrewd German was hoping to get the race restarted after loosing his position due to careless driving, but it seems the race director did not agree with him and the race went on.
The 2002 Australian Grand Prix saw the controversial ‘Team Orders’ once again play a part in creating discontent when Schumacher’s team mate, Rubens Barichello, was ordered to slow his car in the very last few meters of the race, allowing Schumacher to cross the finish line in first place. Fans were outraged at the blatant disregard for sportsman like behaviour, especially as Schumacher had won 4 out of the previous 5 Grand Prix of the 2002 season and was already leading the Championship by a significant margin. Catch the Bahrain Grand Prix at the BIC. For tickets, call 17 450 000.