Ralf Schumacher was born into racing and the Panasonic Toyota Racing driver retains his youthful love of speed, even in his 10th year of Formula 1. Ralf was born in Hürth and grew up in nearby Kerpen, just a few miles from Panasonic Toyota Racing’s factory in Cologne, Germany, and soon enough he was joining what was rapidly becoming the family profession. The Schumacher family was very much focused on motorsport very early in Ralf’s life – and he quickly developed a passion for speed.
“Motorsport has always been a part of my life even before I could even think consciously because I first drove a go-kart at two and half,” the 32-year-old says.
Ralf’s talent was quickly obvious, especially when he took his first step into car racing – and stood on the podium in just his first race.
“I started with karts at two and half, then the first club championships when I was four or five,” he reveals. “Then I simply moved up, joining Formula Junior one day because someone was ill and couldn’t race. I stepped in and finished second – in my first race! I got a lot of support then and on it went.”
That was just the beginning of Ralf’s road to the top but, unlike almost all Formula 1 drivers, he was not the only member of his family forging a career at the peak of his sport. Not only was Ralf challenging to join one of the most exclusive sporting elites on earth, he was aiming to make history by competing against his own brother at that level.
Formula 1 seemed like an almost unreachable dream to young Ralf, as he admits: “It certainly hadn’t crossed my mind as an 18 or 19 year old. No-one would have thought it possible then. It was also a bit tougher for me because I was the younger one. Nobody could imagine two brothers getting into Formula 1 – that wasn’t expected but in the end it all worked out.”
Ralf did, of course, make it to Formula 1 and the rest is history. With six Grand Prix wins he has his own place in Formula 1’s roll of honour and is still challenging to create more happy memories in his third season with Panasonic Toyota Racing.
But there is more to Ralf’s life than driving the fastest racing cars on earth. With a five-year-old son, David, and his wife Cora, Ralf has a happy home life – when he has the chance to take a break from his hectic Formula 1 schedule.
For everyone in Formula 1, leisure time is precious but Ralf makes the most of his time, enjoying skiing on the slopes near his Austrian home, as well as golf and, naturally, spending time with his family, who are supportive of his demanding job at the top of his sport.
“It is certainly the case that I love doing my job, I love what I do in motorsport. But relaxation is also part and parcel of the job,” he says.
“Sometimes of course it’s tough but the good thing is my son knows it no other way than for me to be away a lot. He has grown up with it. While he is not happy when I go, he knows that’s simply the way it is. He also takes an interest in motorsport so it’s not a problem.
“Clearly it’s not always that easy for my wife either. I intend to be doing this job for a while longer but of course I won’t be doing this for 50 years so that’s not really a problem either.“
As well as his role racing and testing the TF107, when Ralf is on duty he is also kept busy away from the track, whether that is catching up with his fans and the media or bringing added attention to Panasonic Toyota Racing and its official partners with personal appearances in a whole range of different locations.
But Ralf also finds time for good causes and helps charities when he can, such as his trip to India in March when he visited the children of leprosy sufferers, giving support to Stella Deetjen’s valuable work to care for and educate them in the city of Varanasi.
In amongst this hectic lifestyle, he naturally devotes a substantial part of his time to training, ensuring he is in perfect physical shape for one of the most demanding sports.
But it is racing that is in Ralf’s blood and, with Panasonic Toyota Racing, he has found a team who share his ambitions.
“This team is simply, in short, really a team, one of the very few - a true team where a great emphasis is put on team spirit and cooperation,” he adds. “It is also great fun to work here.
“The team has a big company behind it which places a great emphasis not only on short-term but long-term success. They take a very healthy long-term approach to the car’s development.”
This weekend at the Nürburgring, he is back on home ground. He was born only a short distance away from the legendary circuit and even competed in that first Formula Junior race there as a youngster. To add to the homely feel, he will have extra support on his side throughout the weekend as the local driver in the local team, with Panasonic Toyota Racing’s factory just an hour away.
“The European Grand Prix is the team’s home grand prix and that will make it a special race weekend for me and the whole team,” he says. “Jarno and I will be sure to enjoy a tremendous amount of support, which is always greatly appreciated.
“There is a great team spirit at Toyota and it will be great to see some of the guys from the factory coming to the race as fans this weekend. Whatever we do on the race track is only possible as a result of the great efforts from everyone back at the factory.”
He may be able to relax with his family away from the track and appreciate the camaraderie of Panasonic Toyota Racing but, once the visor goes down, Ralf is the same passionate racer who started the long road to racing success with his first kart drive almost 30 years ago.