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.”
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