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A special weekend ahead for Schumacher
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Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Aug 2011   |  10:32 pm GMT  |  71 comments

This weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s F1 debut at the wheel of a Jordan-Ford, a truly astonishing statistic.

Schumacher becomes the first F1 driver in history to still be active 20 years after his debut. He also took his first F1 win at Spa in 1992. It is also 17 years since he was disqualified from victory in the 1994 race for having worn down the plank under his floor too much, and 7 years ago at Spa he clinched his 7th world title.

“Everything for me comes back to Spa. The race will certainly have a special touch to it this time, as this is where I drove my first ever Formula One race 20 years ago,” said Schumacher. “It’s hard to believe that this was such a long time ago. A lot has changed in those 20 years, but one thing has not: the track is still sensational. I just love the great nature of the location and the resulting layout with all the ups and downs. To me, Spa remains my ‘living room’, because it has been the stage for so many things which have been remarkable for my sporting career.”

42 years old and still smiling (Darren Heath)

Spa has also many other memories for him; his astonishing battle with Mika Hakkinen in 2000, his win in 1995 from nowhere on the grid, the collision with Coulthard, the list is endless. As a six times winner of the race and many other podiums there, it’s the place which is probably most synonymous with him as a racer.

I remember his debut as if it were yesterday. He was on the pace immediately, in fact I was standing at the top of Eau Rouge with the legendary writer Denis Jenkinson and Schumacher caught his attention straight away for his commitment through the high speed corner. In those days before it was modified and made easier, it was not a simple flat-out corner, it was a huge challenge.

At the end of Friday practice Jenks gave me what he thought was the top five based on simply seeing cars go through Eau Rouge and Schumacher was among them. When we got to the press office and studied the times, his top five order was exactly right!

There was a lot of hype around the young German and within a fortnight he had been poached by Tom Walkinshaw and Flavio Briatore to drive for Benetton, with whom he went on to win two world titles in 1994 and ’95.

Of course it’s not an unbroken sequence of 20 years, as he had three years of retirement before deciding to comeback. He’s already said that he will do the third year of his three years with Mercedes, despite a disappointing lack of results.

All eyes will be on Schumacher and his unique celebration this weekend.

Here’s a Mercedes generated interview with Schumacher, which looks back at 1991, but also asks him some searching questions about his comeback and his performance against Nico Rosberg

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  1. PaulL says:

    With respect to the fact that at Spa 1991 Mansell, Prost, and Alesi retired, and also given Senna, Patrese, and Berger were afflicted by mechanical issues, coupled with teammate De Cesaris’ great pace (running 2nd?) – it seems probable that Schumacher could easily have won but not for cooking the clutch at the start.

    1. Hendo says:

      That’s one of the problems of the “relabiliy rules” – the chances of a mid-fielder getting lucky is pretty slim these days, when only 2 or 3 cars drop out of a GP.
      That’s why over the last couple of seasons, wins are only shared among a few of the drivers in the top 3 teams.
      Bring back the good old days of only 6 or 7 cars finishing!!
      At least Schumacher’s would have a chance at getting on the podium once in a while.

      1. PaulL says:

        Is the reliability down to the rules or is it just that teams are getting better at producing reliable cars?

      2. Koopra says:

        Both.

        Certainly the engine freeze and limit number of engines and gearboxes make a big difference.

        Schumacher et co’s arrival to Ferrari made that team the most reliable. Maybe it’s a question of work ethic too?

        But it’s not just the technical reliability that has changed.

        Many drives used to end stuck in sand traps, but now we have paved runoffs.

        Anti-stall usually prevents a simple spin becoming a DNF. (From 2014 on there will a starter motor.)

        Stricter policing of racing means less collisions. (Although drivers tend to be boneheads. And the grid is closer in speed so there is more close racing.)

        No more racing in rain apparently.

      3. Remember Monaco 1996? I think only 4 cars finished and a couple more classified?

        Great days (except for Alesi retiring that day).

      4. mtb says:

        Yes, a fantastic race – and a shock victory for Panis.

    2. Daniel says:

      The clutch problem was announced by young Schumacher to the Team since morning practice , but The Team, including Jordan refused to change it because it was a too expensive part of the car

  2. Nick Hipkin says:

    James,

    Whats your assessment of Michael’s season so far? I feel some of the press have done him a dis-service saying that its the same story as last year when it seems that he has actually improved his race pace this year bar a few errors.
    It seems that it’s more a case of a poor car from Mercedes, I still wonder if he would scrape a win in a front running car, even at 42! Thoughts?

    Regards

    1. L says:

      80% the grid would win in a McLaren or RBR :P

      1. OzF says:

        Not necessarily, Webber or Massa havn’t picked up a single race win this year =/

        They were both a tiny margin of being WDC too.

    2. Jo Torrent says:

      Better race pace than Rosberg lately but too many mistakes and a consistent poor performance in qualifying

      1. unoc12 says:

        To win first you have to beat your teammate.

        Webber and Vettel both could have easily takent eh WDC earlier last year if they hadn’t kept getting in each others way.

        Rosberg keeps beating Schumacher and so the Mercedes-Benz would have to be fast enough and all rivals would have to get out of the way.

        Only other solution, is to beat your rivals at a different game, e.g. Button can’t beat Hamilton on pace but does know how to make some changing conditions work for him.

    3. Wayne says:

      I’m no James Allen, but my opinion is B+. Were it not for the loss of a few front wings (primarily caused by Schumacher trying to make up for a terrible car) his race performances would be being hailed as very good indeed. I can’t help but ask what people were expecting of him? Did people secretly expect him to come back and drag an under-par car to the title. I’m not sold on Rosberg, either, he seems to qualify well and then just blend into the scenery during the race.

      I do not appreciate Schumi as a person ON the track as in my opinion there have been a few too many examples of questionable sportsmanship but as a driver I cannot bring myself to do anything but bow down to his legend and achievements. I do hope he can win a race before he retires again but first he needs the car.

      That aside let me hear a big cheer from F1 fans everywhere! For this weekend we are all going to Spa together – the true jewel in F1’s crown, the greatest race track on the F1 calendar and proof positive that these cars can overtake without gimmicks if they are raced around circuits with character and which have not been sterilised beyond all recognition! I will utterly despair of F1 if Spa is not kept on as a yearly fixture!

      1. Wayne says:

        Oh and he was also utterly robbed of a podium finsih in Canada by ridiculous DRS. Never thought I huge Damon fan like me would be sticking up for his arch rival!

      2. devilsadvocate says:

        got to agree with you there, Button probably would have snuck around still due to how fast he was, DRS or no, although wasting less time behind Michael and Webber once DRS was enabled certainly helped him line up his attack of Vettel. However Schumacher definitely would have been able to hold off Webber for 3rd if they had kept the DRS off, that would have been absolutely epic.

    4. Richard says:

      I think this is easy to answer in your own mind – 1, do you think Sebastien or Lewis would have won in the Mercedes so far this season? and 2, do you think Michael would have won in a Red Bull?

      We all know the answers to these two simple questions and the simple fact is Mercedes need to find something remarkable either in this final third of the season or for next year.

      True Michael has once again been outshone in many cases by Nico, but Nico has something to prove and Michael doesn’t – he’s pushing, sometimes just too far. I think we have yet to see his real potential and Mercedes and Ross know this – they just need to bring it to him.

    5. The Artful Codger says:

      I’d love to see the wily old dog get at least 1 more victory before he hangs the racing gloves up again (Ideally another title but unless Mercedes have another ’09 up their sleeve i don’t see it happening).

    6. George says:

      Good question… would be great to have your view James.

      1. jonnyd says:

        i think canada and silverstone proves that he still has what it takes. hes still not used to the oversize front wings they all use now but his racecraft and skills in low-grip conditions are there for all to see. rosberg has never outperformed what the car is capable of once this season – i think michael has in canada, where he pushed the limits of the drying track more than any other driver, visibly.
        that gave me all the confidence i need to believe he can still win.
        really odd why people think he’s getting ‘trounced’ by rosberg – look at it on a race by race basis and that simply isn’t true.

  3. docjkm says:

    Though Shumi’s continuity is remarkable, and his controversial career speaks for itself, I cannot believe anyone benefits from another year except as his PR value for Merc. Trotted out as a version of an older male grid girl. Sad. Canada was great, but the rest has been painful to watch.

    Please Mikey, end it, or show us why not.

    1. Mitchel says:

      An ‘older male grid girl’. Brilliant!

  4. dubdub says:

    I agree with Nick.
    I think Schumi has definitely improved this year, especially when you compare his performances to Rosberg.

    1. Tom says:

      Gordon? Is that you?

  5. Pete Watson says:

    It has historically been an eventful race for Schumacher and I will be there to see it in person for the first time at Spa. Is there much expectation on the Mercedes to be stronger here than other tracks, maybe giving us the chance to see some of the old Shuey?

    Also James – I will be in the paddock for the full weekend as a guest of Red Bull… I was trying to find a contact page for you on here but had no joy. Would be great to put a face to the name as I’ve read you’re site very regularly since I discovered it. If you are able to take 10 mins for a coffee/beer then my email address is “pete at petewatson.com” if you can drop me a line to arrange something…no worries if not though :)

    Looking forward to my first Spa visit

    1. James Allen says:

      You’ll see me around. I’m there from Thursday morning onwards

      1. Pete Watson says:

        Cheers James – at least i won’t seem like a complete stranger now!

  6. Becken says:

    Hi, James – Sorry for been off topic, but has been a long time since I´m trying to find info about Denis Jenkinson and theres nothing available anywhere.

    I would love to read some piece of prose about him written by you or even learn something about the man elsewhere or in a book.

    Could you help me, please?

    Thks

    1. James Allen says:

      No idea. I knew him quite well, but don’t know of any written info about him

      1. Becken says:

        Thanks, Stevie, but I need something more substantial.

        Thanks, anyway! ;)

    2. Greg Harrison says:

      This is a very good book you may be interested in:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jenks-Passion-Motor-Denis-Jenkinson/dp/1899870229

      1. Becken says:

        Hummmm… very interesting, Greg. Thanks.

        I have found a very good review about this book and I hope this can be useful to any one else:

        http://www.atlasf1.com/2000/ger/preview/books.html

  7. Roberto says:

    MS still have what it takes to be a champion it has taken a lot more than initially expected by us fans but you can see in races how he attacks and how he defends. I think self pressure had made him make some ugly mistakes, but at the end we have to recognize he has improved a lot from last year and the hunger is there. He was too accustome to his Ferrari days were he had the best car by a milestone and in an era about 800 people working flat out for him, Mercedes doesn´t have that infraestructure and one of his strenghts was to managae and encourage people and probably after achieving 7 titles he´s more relax and not so demanding, but with a possible comeback of in season testing and a better car a preparation for next year he can be fighting for top positions easily, look at the results in difficult races were he has done much better than rosberg i think he´s main problem has been getting the sweet spot on the tires in most of Q3 were he has been in.

  8. Cee says:

    He’s had a fantastic career but his comeback hasn’t been as great heres hoping mercedes can give him a better car for 2012.

    James off topic but there are rumours stating that LRGP is dumping Heidfeld and bringing in Senna.

    Any truth to this?

    1. James Allen says:

      I’ve heard it as you have. It came from Eddie Jordan. Waiting to find out if it’s true

  9. zombie says:

    To me its the commitment of this man at a ripe old age of 42 that stands out! He’s got nothing left to prove, and has probably long run out of coffers to store his money, yet he looks mind-fracturing fit for someone who is 42,and even in his lackluster second career he shows the same ruthless commitment that has been the mark of his racing life.

    Can’t believe its been 20 years already! I so vividly remember watching him overtake Alesi for 1st in the 1995 Nurburgring GP at one of the narrowest chicanes on the circuit scraping the side of his car to Alesi’s and taking the lead! Breathtaking! Hope he gets on the podium atleast once before he retires for good.

  10. Ahmed says:

    Brawn and Mercedes promised a front running car, something they have failed to provide 2 years running. I am sure that Michael would have only agreed to come back based on expectations that they would develop a race winning package.
    It is a great sign of determination that he has stuck it out, and his desire has not waned despite a car that is a distant fourth and no where near the top 3 teams.
    Hamilton and other drivers take note of how to build a team by taking ownership of results and not blaming the team for a poor car.

  11. Mark in Australia says:

    I believe Michael still has what it takes to win again, unfortunately I can’t see Mercedes GP supplying him with the necessary tools to do the job.

    I’d love to see Michael back in the podium mix, but the domminating Schumacher of old is gone.

  12. goferet says:

    For sure Schumi owns Spa for unlike Senna, Spa has always been Schumi’s favourite track & not Monaco & he’s always been happiest here & at Suzuka.

    20 years in the sport since his debut, well when it comes to stats Schumacher has got that covered for eternity as far as am concerned. Not even baby Schumi will be around that long for we all know he can’t tie the Kaiser’s shoe laces.

    But the thing that has most impressed him about Schumacher since he came out of retirement is his unrelenting stubborness for despite his performances & machinery, he is not giving up. A lesser character would have packed up & sheepishly re-retired (At least I know I would)!

    Hell he’s even going for another stat to become the only driver to still be active 21years since his debut *standing ovation*

  13. bones says:

    I remember that day like it was yesterday too…
    A great driver,a shame that he never had the courage to allow a top driver in his team,for that he will never be valued as his numbers say he should.

  14. Tank says:

    Proud to say I went to spa last year, my first and so far only grand prix visit, mostly to see schumi. my best mate and I sat at eau rouge during the race. It was sensational, gives me shivers just recalling the sound of the cars filing through the corner…

  15. SD says:

    To be honest i am tired of the press being always negative about Schumacher.

    He has been brilliant this season , and why the press and specially the BBCF1 (DC) so against him every time ?

    It’s so stupid comparing him with Lewis and Alonso and Vettel why? He showed the world what he could do when he was at 23 or 27!

    The real question should be will Lewis or Alonso or Vettel or for that matter Rosberg be as good as Michael when they are 42!

    Problem with Michael is people expect him to win every race , He will not because Mercedes is not good enough and not even next year.

    How many champions with so many wins and records have balls enough to come back and risk everything? That is Michael Schumacher.

    1. olivier says:

      It was a joy to see him in the mix at Canada!

      I so much wish this man a great car and a podium finish. I am gutted Mercedes GP is wasting his comeback.

      Next year will be his final year in his contract. Mercedes GP has got to extend his contract if they fail to give him a decent car next year.

  16. Thebe says:

    I think MS biggest problem this year is qualifying , his race pace in the last two or three races was very good , it was better than Rosberg’s at some point. Because he qualifies lower than Rosberg he ussually has to work his way up the field and this why Rosberg finishes ahead of him in races.

  17. giorgio.ch says:

    It’s so pity Merc is not on top of game, perhaps one could to look MS’s fair battle for the podium, alas there won’t be such an opportunity.
    But now, perhaps other young German will challenge case. (though, for the time seems like SPA favorite is not German)

  18. SBN says:

    Michael made F1 a delight to watch. His battles with Mika were some of the best battles I have seen (especially in those times).

    At Spa so many years ago, Coulthard, being the gentleman he is, slowed down so Schumacher could pass (clearly Michael was faster). But Schumacher had not expected this and they collided. How exciting it was, as the camera followed Schumacher, as he stormed to Coulthard’s pitbox, Jean Todt in tow trying to hold Schuey back. Had Schumacher won that race, that championship was his. It would have made it eight in total. Subsequent races saw Michael starting at the back of the grid, and as a result Mika took the WDC (much to his wife’s delight – who always seemed ready to spank him if he has lost).

    Presently, Michael is nine wins from a century. But, I don’t think he will become a centurion. If he hadn’t retired from F1 three years ago, he could have had at least 8 championships and over 100 wins (based on Raikkonen’s WDC and Massa’s “almost” WDC in the Ferrari). He would have truly been untouchable.

    Who could blame him for coming back? Mercedes was going to be a dream team. On paper, it was a fairytale story: Mercedes and Schumacher’s comeback, an all-German driver lineup/team, a championship winning Brawn car and fans seeing Schumacher on the podium again. Oh it was going to be divine!

    Oh well…..he is still a champion in my eyes.

  19. Red5 says:

    A great track, loved by the drivers and the fans.

    Michael is no fool. His committment to a third year will be based on specific improvements to the car.

    How special would a podium be for Schumi, for Mercedes and for the sport this weekend?

  20. James D says:

    I’m a massive Schumacher fan. I didn’t attend my first race until 2008 so thought I’d missed out on seeing him in action, but then he came back and I am going to Spa this weekend to watch him race and achieve this landmark.

    I am 19 years old, it’s incredible to think he made his debut before I was born! His first team-mate was Nelson Piquet, in those 20 years Piquet’s son’s career has been and gone! But here’s Michael still on the grid.

    To still be reasonably competitive at 42 is amazing. I’m hoping for a strong result for him more than ever this weekend.

    1. Stardom says:

      6 wins..The Spa specialist will show his magic this weekend

  21. Maria Ditch says:

    F1 is a much richer and fulfilling sport with the excellence of Michael Schumacher in it. I am very fortunate to have shared the past 20 years with my sons as they grew up, watching the genius at work. F1 Sundays are still special now they are 20, 21 and 22. Keep going, Schumy!

  22. s404 says:

    Great anecdote with Dennis Jenkinson. Thanks for that.

  23. Andy C says:

    Its been a dissapointing comeback for Schuey. First year he was rusty, but towards the end of the year I was starting to see glimpses of the old guy coming back.

    Mercedes have failed to produce a car thats good enough for either of its drivers, and hopefully they will upscale their resources in the right places for next year.

    I still hear that Paul Di Resta will be at MGP next year. Whether thats replacing Nico who I doubt will stay is another matter.

    I think both MGP drivers are capable of winning, I just dont think the car is, and by some margin (barring an attritional race).

    1. Andy C says:

      This year I think he’s looked a lot better, but ironically the car seems to be worse relatively than last year.

  24. Peter says:

    I think the number of wins (or performance of drivers) at Spa is the best reflection of a driver calibre and natural gift. Its a fantastic track, it is just shame that F1 management is not more keen to keep it as brand DNA. I would give the track a special name/prestige in the F1 calendar (like Indy 500) instead of making it a biannual track.

  25. Eduan says:

    I think He still has it. Yes he has made mistakes but his comebacks through the field has been great to watch. I hope Michael really get the car hooked up on Spa and deliver the kind of result that he is capable of. Michael is still there and everyone knows that Mercedes just needs to get up there and produce a good car. Nico has not really convincingly out performed Michael this year for me.

  26. Janis says:

    Oh yes,
    his ’95 battle with Hill was the best I have ever seen – and I have watched almost every F1 race since ’89. Fabulous!
    At the top of his first career together with his Ferrari “Dream Team” he set the performance level so high, most other drivers/teams then and now often look like amateurs.
    He has always been stubborn and has never given up, even at desperate situation. Seems to me this stubbornness is helping him to weather these 2 difficult seasons at Mercedes.
    I hope next year Mercedes will finally deliver a car good enough for what probably will be his final year in F1!

  27. jmv says:

    I also remember Spa 2004 for the first race where I saw Schumacher beaten in a straight shootout, by a car that was considered less that the Ferrari: young Kimi Raikkonen.

  28. Sikhumbuzo says:

    Hi Guys;

    Interesting comments indeed, however for me its the reflexes that count. @ 42 he has made most out of his starts because of his reaction time as the lights go off.

    That has been unequaled by anyone so far. And to have such a good reaction time better than some drivers almost half his age, I know he has nt lost it.

    It may seem they might need say a year more or in the current contract. And my gut felling is Micheal is up for it.

    The doomsayers are still goint to see him for at least a couple of years more!

    Sikhumbuzo Thomo

  29. eric weinraub says:

    Resource reduction is STILL playing a role in F1 to the detriment of Mercedes and other teams. McLaren, RBR, and Ferrari all have more personel and money involved then the rest because of the way the agreement was structured. I expect the Mercedes to be better in Schuey’s final year. I hope it is.

  30. David Cutting says:

    James,

    Somewhat off the topic, but I was very interested to see your reference to Jenks, particularly after reading WB’s obit last week. I followed Grand Prix, as they were known in the 50′s and 60′s, almost entirely through the medium of ‘Motor Sport’ and DJ’s long race reports. There was virtually no reporting of continental GP’s in the national papers unless there was some lurid accident, so it was often 3-4 weeks before we knew what happened at Spa or Casablanca.

    Three weeks ago I was reading that F1 ‘enthusiasts’ would loose interest if they couldn’t watch races live and for nothing. Kids these days!

    Keep up the good work. I’ve been beginning to see you as DJ’s spiritual successor.

    With many thanks-

    David Cutting

  31. mo kahn says:

    With all said n’ done… I wasn’t born in Fangio era but am proud to witness the Schumacher era.

    Anyone who criticizes him must realize… he has delivered things which others can only dream of.

    Indeed, he is currently struggling… but in his prime he made legends nervous… how many can show the very determination as he shown at his current age?

    Enjoy till he is racing :)

  32. Terry says:

    I respect Michael more this time around in his F1 career he having fun with F1 and he can stay on the grid as long as he wants he earned it. He still make more money than any one on the grid today.

    I just hope Ross Brawn and Mercedes can give Michael a fast car next year so he can experiencing winning again. Like Ross Brawn was able give to Rubens with Brawn Gp team and their fast cars.

    I do respect that both the Ex Ferrari team mates who are still on the grid battling it out on different teams after all these years, they bring class to the sport.

  33. Taz says:

    20 years and still going. That just speaks volume. I am glad to have been part of the 14 years of his career and will continue on forever! good luck this weekend schumi :) hope to see a repeat of Montreal this year

    1. Eduan says:

      Yes and lets better that!

  34. Paul D says:

    I love the fact Schumacher is still on the grid.

    I like the fact that the same guy that raced with Mansell, Senna, Prost and Piquet back in 1991 is still going wheel to wheel with Hamilton and Vettel today.

    He’s like the link to a previous age, linking up different era’s and I think it’s great.

    Ok he is not as quick as he was, but he is still remarkably competitive for a 42 year old. This is purely down to his talent.

    1. Tex says:

      Beautiful remark! Thanks Paul D!

  35. Stardom says:

    Great article James, proud that can witness the anniversary of Michael Schumacher legendary career.
    And interesting stuffs from Sauber and Franz Tost:
    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/93894
    http://www.motorsport.com/#/f1/news/f1-schumacher-should-stay-if-formula-one-still-fun-tost

  36. Stardom says:

    Great article James, proud that can witness the anniversary of Michael Schumacher legendary career. Living Legend.

  37. Franklin says:

    Schumy is the champion. If Mercedes would give him a good car we’ll be seeing some other champions ass-kicked and at 42 years old !!!

  38. An F1 fan is heartfelt, this Schumacher. SUDDENLY! This his 7 championship is forgot!!! But a man of immense pounding pace cannot be forgot!!! A tear will be given by me. Let you weep for Michael Schumacher in his SPA battle. I harden.

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