I first heard of Michael Schumacher back in 1991 when he joined the Benetton Formula 1 team and immediately started to end races on the podium.
|Michael Schumacher driving for Benetton Formula at the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Unlike his peers, he did not use his early years in racing to learn the ropes, get to grips with the team and his personal engineers, but immediately jumped into fast racing. His engineers have always said that the feedback he gave was extraordinary.
The current world leader in Formula 1, Sebestian Vettel has repeatedly stated that he always endeavors to be more like Michael when it comes to how he behaves outside of the car. The fact that in such an ego-fueled industry the World Champion can say something like that shows just what a hero Michael Schumacher is to so many people.
So, why did I hate the man? I'm sure he didn't care a fig about me!
|Michael Schumacher driving for Scuderia Ferrari at the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Quite simply, in an era where it wasn't unheard of for drivers to sneak a quick cigarette here or there, (heck the cars looked like boxes of cancer sticks for crying out loud!), Michael proved time after time why it was so important to be at the peak of physical fitness. For me, that was just too much. The best drivers were equivalent to fighter pilots, if not better and they lived by their quick wits and reaction times. You're not going to improve on those however much salad you eat or however many miles you cycle, run or swim.
It's just not sportsman-like, its unprofessional and I'll have none of it!
Yes, I was wrong. Oh so very wrong. Oh so very, pathetically wrong.
Michael Schumacher repeatedly stood up for what he believed in. He just knew what it took to take Formula 1 racing to the next level. A level that most racers of the time could not achieve.
His first victory was at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1992, in a wet race at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which by 2003 he would call "far and away my favourite track". He finished third in the Drivers' Championship in 1992 with 53 points, three points behind runner-up Patrese.
In 1994 Schumacher won six of the first seven races and was leading the Spanish Grand Prix, before a gearbox failure left him stuck in fifth gear. To most drivers being stuck in 5th means pulling over to the side and an ice cream in the back of the team garage or a helicopter ride to the airport to get home. Schumacher finished the race in second place.
Its at this point that I, as a grown man and solid fan of Formula 1 should have noticed that he was a star on the rise. Instead I was present at Silverstone, at the British Grand Prix, when Schumacher was penalized for overtaking on the formation lap. He then ignored the penalty and the subsequent black flag, which indicates that the driver must immediately return to the pits, for which he was disqualified and later given a two-race ban. It was this kind of 'not playing cricket' that really annoyed my sensibilities of fair-play.
I wasn't driving a half tonne race car around gritty tracks at 300 km/h, so I wasn't really in a position to argue with him.
In 1996, Schumacher joined Ferrari, a team which had last won the Drivers' Championship in 1979 and the Constructors' Championship in 1983, for a salary of $60 million over 2 years. A year later, ex-Benetton employees Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn, who had been Technical Director at Benetton since 1991, and who were one of the key members behind Schumacher's title successes with the team in 1994 and 1995, decided to join Schumacher at Ferrari. This increased Schumacher's motivation to build a more experienced and potentially championship-winning team around him.
|Michael Schumacher driving for Ferrari at the 1997 German Grand Prix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Schumacher was drawing excellent talent around him, and this time, he had the money to put into the design and upkeep of the dream car. He finished third in the drivers' championship in 1996 and helped Ferrari to second place in the constructors' championship ahead of his old team Benetton. He won three races, more than the team's total tally for the period from 1991 to 1995.
Schumacher won his third World Championship in 2000. At the post race press conference, after equaling the number of wins (41) won by his idol, Ayrton Senna, Schumacher broke into tears. This is when I started to dilute the hatred for the man.
A man who has won World Championships 7 times (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002,2003, 2004) cannot be hated by an F1 fan! Repeatedly he has proven that his attitude, mixed with his natural ability and his fitness, created a winner;
It doesn't get much better than that.91 wins155 podiums68 pole positions77 fastest laps