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Since the Formula One World Championship began in 1950 the title has been won by 31 different drivers, 14 of whom won more than one championship. .

Michael Schumacher  

World Championships 7
Grand Prix Entries 250
Grand Prix Wins 91
Pole Positions 68
Nationality German


Since the Formula One World Championship began in 1950 the title has been won by 31 different drivers, 14 of whom won more than one championship. Of the previous multiple champions the most prolific was Juan Manuel Fangio, whose record of five titles stood for five decades until it was eclipsed by the most dominant driver in the history of the sport. By the time he retired, still the man to beat after 16 seasons at the top, Michael Schumacher had seven driving titles and held nearly every record in the book by a considerable margin. Though his ethics were sometimes questionable, his sheer brilliance behind the wheel was never in dispute.Michael Schumacher

The most extraordinary driver's origins were most ordinary. He was born on 3 January, 1969, near Cologne, Germany, six years before his brother Ralf, who would also become a Formula One driver. Their father, a bricklayer, ran the local kart track, at Kerpen, where Mrs Schumacher operated the canteen. As a four-year old Michael enjoyed playing on a pedal kart, though when his father fitted it with a small motorcycle engine the future superstar promptly crashed into a lamppost. But Michael soon mastered his machine and won his first kart championship at six, following which his far from affluent parents arranged sponsorship from wealthy enthusiasts that enabled Michael to make rapid progress. By 1987 he was German and European kart champion and had left school to work as an apprentice car mechanic, a job that was soon replaced by full-time employment as a race driver. In 1990 he won the German F3 championship and was hired by Mercedes to drive sportscars. The next year he made a stunning Formula One debut, qualifying an astonishing seventh in a Jordan for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, whereupon he was immediately snapped up by Benetton, where in 1992 he won his first Formula One race, again at Spa, the most demanding circuit of them all.

Over the next four seasons with Benetton he won a further 18 races and two world championships. His first, in 1994, was somewhat tainted in that Benetton was suspected of technical irregularities and in their championship showdown race in Adelaide Schumacher collided (deliberately, some thought) with his closest challenger, the Williams of Damon Hill. But Germany's first world champion was unquestionably worthy of the 1995 driving title, following which he moved to Ferrari, then a team in disarray and without a champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979. The Schumacher-Ferrari combination began promisingly with three wins in 1996 and five more in 1997, though that season ended in infamy when in the final race, at Jerez in Spain, Schumacher tried unsuccessfully to ram the Williams of his title rival Jacques Villeneuve off the road. As punishment for his misdemeanour Schumacher's second place in the championship was stricken from the record books he would thereafter begin to rewrite.
Michael Schumacher

After finishing second overall in 1998, Schumacher's 1999 season was interrupted by a broken leg (the only injury of his career) incurred in crash at the British Grand Prix. From then on there was no stopping 'Schumi' - who in 2000 became Ferrari's first champion in 21 years, then went on to win the driving title for the next four seasons in succession. In 2002 he won 11 times and finished on the podium in all 17 races. In 2003 he broke Fangio's record by winning his sixth driving title. In 2004 he won 13 of the 18 races to secure his seventh championship by a massive margin. Disadvantaged by an off-the-pace Ferrari in 2005 he still managed third overall in the standings. In 2006 he finished his career with a flourish (though at Monaco he was found guilty of deliberately parking his Ferrari to prevent anyone from beating his qualifying time): extending his pole position record to 68 (Ayrton Senna had 65), scoring seven victories to bring his total to 91 (40 more than his nearest rival, Alain Prost) and nearly winning yet another driving title.

Like all the great drivers Schumacher had exceptional ambition, confidence, intelligence, motivation, dedication and determination. What set him apart and helped account for his unprecedented length of time at the top of his profession was a pure passion for racing and an endless quest for improvement. Blessed with a supreme natural talent, he had a racing brain to match, possessing spare mental capacity that enabled him to make split-second decisions, adapt to changing circumstances and plan ahead while driving on the limit, which with his superb state of fitness (he trained harder than any driver) he was easily able to do for lap after lap. The smoothly swift and mechanically-aware driver operated with a keen sensitivity for the limits of his car and himself (he made comparatively few mistakes) and his feedback to his engineers (led by technical director Ross Brawn who worked with him throughout his career) was exceptionally astute.

No Ferrari driver worked harder for the team, nor were any of them more appreciated than the German who led the famous Italian Scuderia to six successive Constructors' Championships. He led by example, frequently visiting the factory at Maranello, talking to the personnel, thanking them, encouraging them, never criticising and invariably inspiring everyone with his optimism, high energy level and huge work ethic. The team was totally devoted to the driver who often said he loved the Ferrari ‘family’.

Life with his own family - wife Corinna and their children Gina-Maria and Mick - was deliberately kept as normal as possible (the children never came to the races) and held sacred by the essentially shy and private man who reluctantly became one of the most famous sportsmen in the world. Rich beyond his wildest dreams (he reportedly earned as much as US$100 million a year), he generously supported charities, especially those for underprivileged children, and to help victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster he made a personal donation of US$10 million.

In his last season the 37-year-old driver who had made Formula One racing his personal playground was still at the peak of his powers. No champion had been so excellent for so long, but Michael Schumacher finally grew tired of the effort necessary to continue to excel and decided to quit while he was still ahead - so far ahead that his achievements are unlikely to ever be surpassed.

Text - Gerald Donaldson


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