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What were Schumacher’s best years?
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What were Schumacher’s best years?
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Oct 2010   |  1:28 pm GMT  |  251 comments

I’ve been interested to read some of the comments about Michael Schumacher following on from my post the other day.

Some of you have got into a debate about what were Schumacher’s best years and it struck me that we should enlarge that debate.


There are several phases to choose from; the early Benetton years where he challenged Senna, won in his first full season aged 23 and won two world titles and 19 victories.

Then there were the hungry years at Ferrari from 1996 to 1999, where the title eluded him but he had some amazing races. He won 16 times during these years.


The 2000 to 2004 seasons where he finally won the title for Ferrari and then went on to be more or less unbeatable were the most successful, obviously with 49 wins.

And then there were the two odd seasons in 2005 and 2006, the final years with eight wins and one final tilt at the title against younger opposition.

I’d be interested to know what people think.

Just to be clear on one thing from my post last week: when I was talking about how in the Ferrari days he was able to get everything how he wanted it, with loads of testing and tyres that he could develop, I wasn’t suggesting that this is why he was successful in his first career. He would have been successful anyway.

But it’s one of the key reasons why he was SO successful.

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1

For me it has to be the Benneton years. The car was a dog compared to the Williams. He drive mostly just over the limit, continually catching the car as it broke away. If the back end of the car wasn’t hanging out he was on a slow lap. At Benneton he won purely on his skills.

At Ferrari his wins tended to be more the result of being in the best team. The design of the car, Brawn’s brilliant strategies, tyres designed specifically for him, a second driver to help him win if required and so on.

One of the things that sort the good from the greats is the ability to adapt their driving style to over comings of the car, Look at how much the gap between him and Rubens narrowed as the Ferrari got better.

Senna had that ability to instinctivly adapt to suit the car. Schumacher did in the early days but seemed to lose it over the years. The Schumacher of the 90’s wouldn’t be blaming the shortcomings of the Mercedes, he would be going all out to beat Rosberg.

Going into fantasy land, how many titles would he have won if Senna had not been killed? I admire Hill, but would Senna have been faster in the sister Williams in 94/5?

Prior to his death in 94, Senna was the favourite of Shell and Marlborogh. When those two put up the money to start the ‘dream team’ at Ferrari in 97, would Senna have been the chosen driver?

If Senna went to Ferrari, would Schumacher have been at McLaren in the late 90s when they were dominant?

2

I personally think that his best season was probably 1998. An inferior car to the McLarens that year and still managed to win races and challenge for the title to finish eventually second. A season where

However overall I do not feel Schumacher was the greatest and found it hard to find a ‘best season’ as I don’t really respect the man in spite of his achievements.

In 1994 the traction control accusations (which Benetton openly admitted were there, 10 button presses and there you have it) Then knocking off Hill in Australia. Up until that point he was my favorite driver in F1 but he completely tarnished his reputation that year. The following years justified my stance but there are too many things to list.

Contrary to this I recently have completely changed my opinion of Senna, I think the media’s representation of him did him no favours.

3

Up to 2006 they’re all special years.

Even 2005 if you only take into account of Imola.

1995 was when I became a fan and gained respect for his savvy skills.

If I had to pick 1 year then it would be 1996.

A top class not only wins in the best cars but the other and more important asset (Button take note) also in a lesser one – one that usually contends for podiums in lesser hands.

The other key thing is that not only did he drive a lesser car and got 3 wins out of it (I must point out I do not regard Spain as a great win, more like Benetton had a better forecast/prediction!), he did it without key players like Ross Brawn calling the shots and Rory Bryne designing the car.

Ferrari was still in disarray despite Todt taking helm. John Barnard had insisted on working in England and engine built Marranello. Barnard was waning. The car had a poor aero balance.

The other point is that in the same year Benetton built a similar car to the previous year. Even the highly rated Alesi struggled at times perhaps proving the diminutive Frenchman one of the most over-rated drivers in F1!

4

James, wondering if you remember Mika Hakkinen’s ‘exhibition test’ in 2003 or 2004? He was painfully slow in the test and admitted that it was not easy to get back into these modern day F1 cars after a long gap as they progress in “lightyears”!

Few people realize how difficult it must be for a 41 yr old to jump from his recliner into an F1 car and go fast compared to young guy who ‘progress’ to the next stage of racing.About his best years, he was ruthlessly efficient from 1991-2006, 91-2000 were great as he was playing catch up.2001,02 and 04 showed what he could have done if had the best car on the grid.If he had made a habit of jumping to winning teams,he could have retired with atleast 9 or 10 titles IMHO.Cheers!

5

Think I am a bit late!

Anyways, I would say each and every year when Schumi was racing is our best year. As for his best years, I would say it is his period of domination(2000-2004). If not for Schumi we wouldn’t have got this much to talk and think about. Some may focus on his negatives and some may look at his positives but he is always in there in whatever that is related to F1.

I think he is a distinguished individual, a fierce competitor on track and very helpful off it. He has donated so much to charity(Tsunami fund etc) and has got an enormous appetite for success which I would say has driven him towards these many WDCs.

Looking forward to his drive in 2011. Hoping to see the Michael Magic once more and his trademark jump on the top step of the podium.

Thanks for the article James!

6

Spain 1994 – Michael ended up in 2nd place in a car stuck in 5th gear for more than half the race. I think that was his peak in terms of raw driving talent.

But look at Shanghai 2006 – he conjured an amazing wet qualifying laptime to be the only Bridgestone runner in the top 10, then went on to win in the rain.

12 years on he was still crazy fast.

Could Hamilton touch that?

Don’t forget, he trounced Button and Sebastian Loeb in equal buggies at the ROC after his retirement. If it had open wheels, he could always do magic with it.

If you’re counting racecraft, look at Imola 2006 – he and Ross Brawn suckered Alonso into an early stop and basically stole the win. Those two were bandits from start to finish.

7

2000 was his finest season winning his first title with Ferrari. Two of my most memorable moments from this season –

His breakdown at the post race interview at Monza following a several race drought

Qualifying at Suzuka as he and Mika traded fast laps. The camera shot of Michael as he sat in his car in the garage watching his timing monitor and grining as Mika had just topped his time was unforgettable!

8

To me, he had brilliant seasons when he didn’t win the title and lesser ones where he did. The seasons that stand out to me are:

1995: Michael simply outclassed Coulthard, Alesi and Hill)

1996: pulled astonishing feats in a terrible car, his Spa win was truly special

1997: his car was a bit better, but no one would’ve come so close to the title as he did

He had a ragged spell in ’98 and ’99 (no shortage of great performances, just some uncharacteristic mistakes borne from frustration), no wonder he had that crash, and the time off did him a world of good.

In 2000 up to 2002 he was at his absolute best, with all the reflexes and hunger of his early years now tempered by experience and of course the backing of the Ferrari team at its absolute peak.

He lost a bit of his edge in the last four years of his career, and to me his hunger seemed to be flagging in ’05 and ’06, which gave room to Alonso to become the class of the field.

9

his best years were, for sure, in the seasons when he didn’t have the best car, and had to fight. this would be 96,97,98,99,05.

00 and 06 were thrilling as ferrari had developed the cars in those seasons to match the competition by the end (mclaren and renault). schumachers come back from 24 points behind in 2006 was extraordinary, to then be leading the championship with 2 rounds to go – proving that he was still the benchmark driver (this notion that Alonso had usurped schumi’s thrown is ridiculous, he hardly dominated)

2005 for me, is probably his best year, where he pulled maximum from the car, and then some, to finish 3rd, in a car/tyre combo that clearly wasn’t anywhere near as good as the mclaren/renault michelin-shod packages. Look where he finished compared to barichello (and barichello still acts as if he could have fought michael given an equal chance? haha)

however, even the ‘boring’ years, 01,02,04 (oh yes, more amazing drives in 03 in a 3 way title battle) when he had clearly the best machinery, he used it like no other driver has done, totally dominating weekend after weekend.

Take the 2004 british grand prix where he was sat in 4th and leapfrogged everyone to 1st by putting in a succession of stunning laps.

Which is what makes this 2010 season…so puzzling. i dont believe he’s simply ‘lost it’. look at heidfeld, back after only half a year, and a second off the pace of his teammate.

compare that to michael in bahrain, whos race pace matched that of nico’s.

that tells you all you need to know about his natural speed. i think once he has a car that he can then setup for speed, rather than setting up simply to get it to handle how he likes it (at a detriment to other parameters), he will be flying.

10

(and he clearly still has the ruthlessness and racecraft, which he has demonstrated in spades in 2010……)

11

I think as with any driver, the years in the wilderness show the true character. 2005 when Ferrari got complacent saw him squeeze every last drop of performance out of a car that wasn’t tin the same league as the Renault. Never was that big of a fan but you have to tip your hat to a showing like that.

12

Definitely the 1998 season, taking the title down to the wire against a McLaren car that lapped the entire field in the first race!

Some amazing races that year, his Hungary win was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

13

love him or hate him he is almost certainly the best of his era and of that there is no doubt .nufff said …long live (race) shumi………………

14

Great sportsmen are at least partly defined by their greatest adversaries, and in Schumacher’s case it was Hill and Hakkinen. For that reason I’d rate the ’94/’95 seasons and the ’98/’99/’00 seasons as his best. He didn’t win in ’98 and ’99 but he put in some amazing drives. He was great in ’97 too, despite the Jerez hiccup.

15

Hiccup!!!! Deliberately trying to take Villenueve of the race is cheating (and dangerous) and he was rightly punished for it. As he should have been in 1994.

16

Tongue firmly in cheek.

17

Definitely those years when he was playing catch up with Williams and McLaren, including 2000. when he finally won the title with Ferrari – That race in Hungary 1998. stands out! But, let’s not forget his performances as that one in Belgium 2002. when he destroyed competition. He was particularly impressive when his machinery was spot on – I never saw Villeneuve or Button doing that in that manner when they had superior car (left out Hakkinen for reason, cause he was worthy champion)

18

in agreement with a lot of these comments abou 96-99 great to watch but at the same time never a fan. i felt he was more bully than a sportsman. Although i am not ruling him out after this poor season, i’ve saved up 100 quid and i’m goin to the bookies to put it on him being world champion next year. I think it is a strong possibility, with brawn and the team focussing on the 2011 car, the new tyres meaning all driver will be on the same boat when it comes to learning the new characteristics, but most of all i am sure michael will have even more determination than ever to prove his critics wrong!

19

A lot of people say that Michael always had the best car. This is not true really. The years when he had the best car were the years when Rubens came second in the championship. In 2005 Michael came third in the championship and Rubens came only 8th. Micheal scored more points than Fisichella managed in the title winning Renault. Michaels ability to make the best of inferior cars was amazing. Therefore when he had the best car he was always going to dominate(2001, 2002, 2004)

20

I’ve been watching F1 for long enough to have seen all of Michael Schumacher’s races.

1994 should have stood out as the season when two true greats went head to head for the title. But Senna’s death robbed us of that. For many fans the events at Imola, not to mention the technical scandals later in the year and the way the title was finally decided, will always overshadow Schumacher’s record in ’94. But looking back at it with a greater degree of detachment I think it shows Michael at his early best. After Senna’s death, Schumacher stood head and shoulders above his peers – as shown by his early season dominance, including the incredible drive to second in Spain using only one gear. At the time I recall willing Damon Hill to take the title, but in retrospect it was Schumacher who stood out as being consistently the best driver by far.

1995 I’d put in a different category because it was like we were seeing a different Michael. No scandals to speak of and Williams clearly had the faster car. Schumacher was generally excellent and it showed in his drives at Spa and the Nurburgring.

I don’t want to underplay 1996 but it was a year when Michael was doomed to a supporting role. I’m probably committing myself to a minority opinion when I mark out 1997. Again, like 1994, it was a season that will forever be remembered for the way the title was decided. But up to that point it was a year when Schumacher outperformed his car to an enormous degree, while Jacques Villeneuve often underperformed but had fortune on his side (see the Luxemberg GP). I think this was the year when another driver (Heinz-Harald Frentzen) joked that the best way of livening up the show was to ban Schumacher and Adrian Newey… for it was essentially the two of them who were competing.

While there are individual races that stand out in 1998-2001 (Hungary ’98, Imola ’99, Malaysia ’99, Japan 2000) I didn’t think any of those years were overall Michael’s best. When given a dominant car in 2002 and 2004, however, Schumacher again took things to another level.

21

I think his best year was 2003 followed by 2000.

2003 started very badly for him with no wins in the first three races and then he had a drop during the summer again without any wins for five consecutive races. Yet, he managed to come back and win the title ahead of Raikkonen and Montoya.

In contrast, he started 2001 brilliantly with three wins in the first three races but then he dropped during the European summer season (four retirements in five races, three in the first lap!) but he managed to finish the year in style with four wins.

These years were the two where he showed everyone what to be a Formula 1 driver really is.

22

Regarding lack of competition during 2000-2004 seasons. I made a list of drivers who were or will become a WDC, and who raced in those years.

2000 (4) Hakkinen, Schumacher, Button, Villeneuve

2001 (6) Hakkinen, Schumacher, Button, Villeneuve, Raikkonen, Alonso

2002 (4*) Schumacher, Raikkonen, Villeneuve, Button, *

2003 (5*) Schumacher, Raikkonen, Villeneuve, Button, Alonso, *

2004 (5*) Schumacher, Raikkonen, Villeneuve, Button, Alonso, *

* represents Mark Webber – if he manages to win this year 😉

Compare to

2010 (4*) Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Alonso, *

* represents possible new WDC (Webber or Vettel)

We can argue that in 2000-2004 Michaels competitors weren’t in a position to beat him for hundreds of reasons. I just wanted to make a point. His 2000-2004 era was no different than any, regarding driving talent on the grid. The question is – did Michael made it look different?

23

Of course, 10 years down the line once could look back at 2010 and add maybe Vettel, Rosberg, Kubica (maybe even Kobayashi and Petrov! Who knows?) But I agree with your point that the current grid isn’t necessarily more talented than previous years.

24

Button debuted in 2000. So the 2001 grid had 7 past and future WDCs. That’s quite a large number!

25

I’d say probably ’06, since it’s when i was old enough to appreciate how good he was. Brazil is the race most inprinted in my mind.

James, slightly off subject. But to you is Schumacher the best ever, and do you think he would have tied the title up in a Red Bull this year, despite being out for the 3 years?

26

Senna’s the best ever for me. No I don’t think he would have won title in a Red Bull this year

27

I think the early days at Ferrari, with a poor car, are in some ways the most impressive. Michael won some races he had no right to, which is the mark of a top driver almost as much as a title or two is.

For me personally I can’t consider Schuey one of the greats, despite the record books indicating otherwise. The cheating during the Benetton years, bullying tactics on track and the way he nobbled his team-mates leave a big stain on his “legacy”.

All of that said I don’t like seeing him struggle now either. He should retire.

28

James, which drivers and teams send you a Christmas card each year?

29

Great question! A few of the drivers and most of the teams. It’s not dependent on what I write if that is what you are getting at!!

30

Most of us look back at the statistics, which you have to admit show Schumi’s career in a good light, and also try to remember some of the classic races.

Are there other metrics that perhaps we don’t see that could help solve the conundrum who is the best driver? For example; from cars telemetry, braking points + pressures, number of mid-corner corrections, reaction times, exit speeds, throttle control, technical feedback, even the number of hours spent training in the gym.

To be honest, both cars and tracks have changed since the 90s. But have the basic driver skills also changed or evolved?

31

The best years? Thats a very difficult question, because with Micheal, there are always “yea, but…”-s involved.

I would pick 2001. He was still sharp back then, but after winning in 2000, was probably more relaxed than ever. Finally he enjoyed a car advantage(in 2001, it was mostly down to reliability though) that his competitors Villeneuve and Häkkinen had in previous seasons. He too could finally afford letting others overtake without banging wheels and take less risks. And unlike 2002 or 2004, you cant tell that there was no opposition. Ferrari was simply more consistent and so was Michael.

Starting 2003 and onward, his abilities to race started to degradate.

But to pick one season from that era, 2005 must be it. Ok, he spun off behind a safety car in China. Also Rubens was clearly faster than him at Indianapolis, before he got a radio message.

But he had similar moments in 2004 as well(with a very competitive car!) so lets discount those worst examples of 2005. What remains is a hungry driver, always ready to fight even if the technical package is not that promising. When compared to the final races of 2004, in 05 we had clearly more motivated and masterful schuey.

1995 was good too. Benneton was probably more reliable than Williams, their tactics worked better as well. But Michael was always there to make good use of it.

The other nominees are 96, 97 and 98, while 96 is the strongest of them. In 1997 he looked very good too. It might have been a fantastic story for F1. Unfortunately he got tired or sth, passing under yellow flags in Austria, weeks later the Jerezgate thing.

In 1998 he coped well, but started to make mistakes. He even developed a disease, which quite often made him go off when leading. He looked nervous and somewhat impatient.

In conclusion, the best years were the ones which didnt force him to be the attacking guy in terms of point scoring table.

So the winners are 1995, 1996, 2001, 2005.

32

2003 he was almost gifted the title. The 2003 title should have Montoya’s. If Ferrari had not of moaned at Michelin tyres then Montoya would have won. Also the Indianapolis move that never was.

His best years for me… Pre-Ferrari or at least the early days of Ferrari. 2000’s onwards were when Schumacher became more hated than loved. While it wasn’t his fault primarily as Ferrari had a dab hand, it was Schumacher at the forefront.

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