Michael Magic: Celebrating the legend of Michael Schumacher as he turns 50
On the 3rd of January 2018, Michael Schumacher turned 50. For Schumacher fans, used to the seven-time F1 champion's exuberant victory leaps, it was a bitter-sweet day. Their hero begins his sixth decade in a somewhat subdued fashion, in the privacy of his home in Switzerland. It has been five years since his near-fatal skiing accident, which led to him being sequestered away from the prying eyes of the public, as he recuperates at his home near Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
While little information has emerged of Schumacher's condition and progress since his accident, on the eve of his 50th birthday, the Schumacher family issued a statement assuring fans around the world that he is being given the very best care in the world, and that they are doing "everything humanly possible to help him". Tributes have poured in from the drivers who raced against him, team personnel instrumental in his success, and journalists who covered the sport during the Schumacher era. While his career might not have been completely free of controversy, there's no denying that Michael Schumacher was a force to be reckoned with in a racecar, and had a commanding presence out of a racecar as well.
On the occasion of his 50th birthday, we look back at some key moments in his F1 career:
That first win - Spa, 1992
A lot of special Schumacher memories seem to have occurred at Spa-Francorchamps. Back in 1991, Schumacher made his F1 debut at the track, qualifying seventh, and making the world sit up and take notice of him. A year on, having been deftly snatched out from right under Eddie Jordan's nose by Flavio Briatore, he took his first ever F1 victory for the Benetton team. It was a wet race, and Schumacher was all of 23 years old. It was a sign of things to come.
That one gear - Catalunya, 1994
It was the year that Schumacher would win his first Formula 1 championship title for Benetton. And it was a year where he began the season with victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo, and followed that up with three more wins. But one of his strongest drives that year came at the fifth race of the season, the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix - a race that he wouldn't win. While Williams driver Damon Hill took victory in the race, Schumacher ended the race second. Which might not seem like much on the face of it, except that he spent a large portion of the grand prix stuck in fifth gear, including one pitstop.
That 16th place start - Spa, 1995
For the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix, Schumacher qualified in 16th. During the race though, he battled hard with title rival Hill, and eventually took victory. It was a classic race, complete with a Schumacher charge through the field to the head of the pack. But the stewards, and Hill, weren't entirely impressed with the way Schumacher defended himself during the race, and he was handed a one-race suspended ban for aggressive driving.
That gauntlet thrown down - Nurburgring, 1995
The 1995 European Grand Prix is often acknowledged as one of Schumacher's finest victories. It was a race in which the Benetton driver started third and managed to get the jump on Ferrari driver Jean Alesi in the closing stages of the race. It ensured that he won the race, took valuable championship points, and seemed comfortably off at the head of the points standings, only requiring three in order to seal his second title.
That second championship title - Aida, 1995
This was the race that decided the 1995 championship title. It was David Coulthard on pole at the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix at Aida, with Schumacher only starting third. But, over the course of the 83 laps, Schumacher would manage to move into the lead, open up a 21-second gap to second-placed Coulthard, by lapping two seconds a lap quicker than him, and emerge from his third pitstop still in the lead of the race. The win would see him become the youngest double champion in F1 history.
That first Ferrari win - Catalunya, 1996
The race that is an example of exactly why Schumacher's nickname of "Regenmeister" or "Rainmaster" is entirely deserved. The 1996 season of Formula 1 saw Michael Schumacher begin his famous partnership with Ferrari - a partnership that would bring in numerous race wins and championship titles. But the season wasn't entirely easy for the Scuderia. It was at the Spanish Grand Prix in Catalunya that Schumacher took his first win for Ferrari, in the pouring rain. The weather meant that the track conditions were far from ideal, but Schumacher managed to lap as much as four seconds faster than the rest of the field at certain points during the race. He would win by a whopping 45 seconds.
That pitlane finish - Silverstone, 1998
The 1998 British Grand Prix was an example of just what a canny combination Schumacher and Ferrari were. While Mika Hakkinen started the race on pole, Schumacher started second on the grid. On the 50th lap of the race, when Hakkinen made a mistake, Schumacher managed to take the lead. However, with just two laps left in the race, he was handed a stop-go penalty for overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella under the Safety Car. Schumacher stayed out on track, completing the last two laps of the race, ending the race in the pitlane, where he served out his stop-go penalty. Despite the furore that ensued, his race win stood.
That three-stop strategy - Hungaroring, 1998
The race that still confounds so many people, and makes even the harshest Schumacher critic grudgingly acknowledge his skill behind the wheel. Schumacher managed to go from third on the grid to winning the race and keeping his championship hopes alive with a masterstroke three-stop strategy by Ross Brawn, even while he was driving a car that wasn't the fastest on the grid. Along the way Brawn required his driver to make up 25 seconds over the course of 19 laps. Which he did. Cue victory leap.
That first title for Ferrari - Suzuka, 2000
The 2000 Japanese Grand Prix saw Schumacher end a 21-year long championship drought for Ferrari, claiming their first championship title since Jody Scheckter won in 1979. Schumacher and Hakkinen battled it out over the course of the 53 laps in inclement conditions. It is a victory that Schumacher has since described as his finest win of all. And there have been 91 to choose from!
That record win - Spa, 2001
Schumacher celebrates victory at the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa with second-placed David Coulthard
Alain Prost's record for most race wins toppled in 2001 when Michael Schumacher went and took his 52nd career F1 win at the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix. Schumacher would take the race win from McLaren's David Coulthard by 10 seconds after moving into the lead once pole-man Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams F1 suffered an engine failure.
That record-equalling fifth title - Magny Cours, 2002
Celebrating his fifth F1 title with Jean Todt, after winning the 2002 French Grand Prix at Magny Cours
Back in 2002, Schumacher won the F1 championship title with six races to spare, after taking victory at the French Grand Prix at Magny Cours. It allowed him to win his fifth championship title, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five F1 titles. It slotted him in as one of the sport's greats. Even back then it was clear that he still had a couple of more championship titles in him.
That record-breaking sixth title - Suzuka, 2003
Celebrating his sixth F1 driver's championship title after finishing eighth at Suzuka
Even though it was Rubens Barrichello who took victory at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the celebration in the other half of the garage was even stronger. Michael Schumacher had finished eighth in the race, earning him the points he needed in order to claim his sixth Formula 1 world championship title. Schumacher became the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time with that sixth championship title.
That er, record-breaking seventh title - Spa, 2004
Schumacher's second place finish at Spa in 2004 ensured he took home a seventh F1 title
The 2004 Belgian Grand Prix saw Michael Schumacher clinch a seventh championship title with four races left in the season. Though Schumacher didn't win the race itself, with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen managing that feat, second place was enough to gain him the championship points he needed for a seventh title. A record that still stands to date.
That 91 victory - Shanghai, 2006
The last time we saw the victory leap - Schumacher's 91st win at the 2006 Shanghai GP
It was the year that many thought Schumacher would wrest the championship crown away from Enstone, and back to Maranello. And, when he took a fine victory at the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai, catapulting him back into the lead of the championship standings, it seemed like Fernando Alonso might just have met his match. Unfortunately, as things turned out at the final race in Brazil, it wasn't to be so. The victory at Shanghai was to be Schumacher's 91st, and last, Formula 1 win. Lewis Hamilton, with 73 wins, is still 18 adrift.
That final podium - Valencia, 2012
2012 European GP at Valencia - Schumacher's final F1 podium, and his only podium since his F1 return in 2010
Schumacher's return to Formula 1 was easily the most awaited comeback in the sport's history. The German driver, now with the Mercedes F1 team, was having a tough time though. There had been one pole that he took at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix, setting the fastest lap during qualifying, although a penalty meant that he couldn't start from first on the grid. The Mercedes F1 W03 wasn't exactly the fastest car on the grid, at Valencia Schumacher dug his heels in and went from 12th on the grid to third, behind Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. It was the sort of drive that was typical of the Michael Schumacher an entire generation of fans knew.
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