Today marks a very special day in motorsport. The legendary, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher turns 49 years old today . On this occasion, we take a look at the moment when the great, the most successful driver of the Grand Prix history joined the pinnacle of motorsport.
A phenomenon. A precise, cold-blooded, immaculate driving style and an emotional character. A legend of his own lifetime. A champion. For many, the greatest.
The German was part of the motorsport scene for decades and is considered to be the greatest figure in the history of Formula One by many followers of the sport and a holder of various records and titles.
He took part in a variety of racing series: European Formula Ford, German Formula Ford, Formula König, German Formula Three, European Formula Three, German Touring Car Racing, World Sportscar Championship, Japanese Formula 3000. He joined Formula One in 1991 and remained committed to it until the end of the 2012 season, albeit he was absent for three years between 2007 and 2009.
Schumacher was competing on several fronts in 1991. He tested his skills in sports car racing for the Sauber Mercedes team and also in formula three cars in Japan. The late summer of that year then completely changed his racing life. His manager Willi Weber who had previously given him a drive in his Formula Three Team was looking around for a place in the pinnacle of motorsport.
A chance opened up at the Jordan team in that summer. The team's official driver Bertrand Gachot’s career derailed when he found himself in a jail after a conflict with a London taxi driver. For the Spa Grand Prix, Eddie Jorden urgently needed a race driver. Weber who was acquainted with the Dublin-born team owner conviced him of the readiness of the young German driver.
Schumacher got his first taste of the way how a Formula One car works in Silverstone. The German tested on the challenging GP circuit with two other cars of the Arrows team. He completed just over 30 laps on that day, but it was enough for him to lower Jordan’s benchmark on that track. However, it was not that easy at all. The great German was shocked by the powerful, impressive nature of the F1 car which was an enormous step compared to the F3 machinery back in those days. He even thought on his first lap ‘oops, there goes your Formula One career, it’s over’. He, however, continued to circle round the 1943-built track and got better and better to grips with the car.
A few days later, the field moved to the legendary Spa circuit and Schumacher headed for the inaugural race weekend of his GP career. The long track located in the Ardennes is a ruthless test of a driver's skills. Roaring on the up-and-down sections, on the frightening hills and through the scarily high-speed corners of the middle part of the track is something which is considered as the ultimate test of the skillfulness of a racing driver. I did not dare to call that a feat of strength or a test of courage because Schumacher always thought the task of a racing driver is to tell and measure at what particular speed he can rush into a corner.
Schumacher had to make his debut on this tough circuit with only a few miles of one single test in his legs. Weber assured Jordan that his protégé was acquainted with the Spa track, hence it should not pose a unique challenge to him. A little white lie. Schumacher gained his first impressions of the tree-confined track on a bicycle.
Michael tried to only pay concentration on that career-deciding weekend. He slept with his manager Weber in a youth hostel on that weekend. However, maintaining the full concentration was not that easy at all. Fighting off a bad cold, he felt rotten and had heavy eyes, runny nose and husky voice.
On the qualifying day, Michael then started to excel which he has showed ever after over the full stretch of his mammoth long career. The German qualified seventh in his Jordan-Ford, four places and seven tenths ahead of the official driver of the Jordan team, Andrea de Cesaris.
The race itself was, however, a verification of how tough and cruel motorsport can be at times. Michael only covered around 500 metres when the car came to a halt due to a damaged clutch.
This technical stroke was, however, no hindrance for the career of Michael. On that particular weekend, he won the attention of the established drivers. He was picked up by Benetton’s Flavio Briatore for the next championship round in Monza which became the next link of the chain. The result then was 306 Grand Prix starts, seven world titles, 91 wins, 155 podiums, 68 pole positions, 77 fastest laps and 1566 championship points.