Michael Schumacher: Once a red, always a red
From humble beginnings as the son of a chimney-builder, Michael Schumacher's 14-year relationship with Ferrari saw him become an idol, a celebrity and a seven-time Formula One world champion. We explore the driver's record-breaking spell with the Prancing Horse in this exclusive extract from The Official Ferrari Opus.
Tuesday 05 April 2011
In the beginning there was a young man who was both ambitious and successful, but who had no sense of the great history. He had never really given any thought as to what a myth was.
His world was four wheels, race tracks and engines; his conversations primarily revolved around the technical aspect of motorsport. For the young man, who came from a lower middle-class background, a car was an item of sporting equipment and a thing of necessity, but never an aesthetic object.
Until 1996, the young Michael Schumacher was barely aware that the fascination racing exerts on people around the world is fuelled by much more than just the technology. Perhaps this was even an advantage at the end of 1995 during the first tests and at the start of 1996 when he began his collaboration with Ferrari.
Unburdened by all the expectations that had been imposed for around 60 years on every driver who joined the best-known racing team in the world, Schumacher faced the new adventure of the Scuderia. He had never particularly concerned himself with the Ferrari name and the legend - this world was simply too far away from him.
That a car could be a cult object had never been a topic of discussion in his family environment. And he still had to learn that a Ferrari driver in Italy was far more than just the driver for a Formula 1 team. Schumacher, the son of a chimney-builder, had worked his way to success through his own efforts. He learnt early on that he must make personal sacrifices and that he could only advance by performing well. He experienced first hand the need to make use of his few chances, because they would not come twice to someone like him.
By the time Michael Schumacher left the Scuderia Ferrari for Mercedes in 2010, in order to face once again the challenge of Formula 1, the inexperienced young man had matured into a legend, a celebrity, an icon acclaimed around the world, and not only among the Ferraristi.
He drove for Ferrari for 14 years, 11 in Formula 1 and three more in the development of road cars. In those 14 years both partners learned a lot about each other and greatly profited from the relationship, each basking in the glory of the other. Together they established a golden era, with successive victories and successes in the premier class of motorsport that might prove unsurpassable.
Schumacher had thereby become a different man; a development that was not just due to the normal ageing and maturing process. "I have really enjoyed my time at Ferrari, not just because of the successes," he says. "When you are part of a community for 14 years, it inevitably shapes you. I will always have a part of Ferrari beside me; a part of my heart will always be red. The Scuderia has a really special bond, it rightly speaks of itself as a family - a family that I have long felt a part of and that I still feel a part of. My time with Ferrari was wonderful. I have found friends and had experiences that I would not want to be without. Concepts that I had never contemplated before my time at Ferrari came to life for me there: myth, cult, history. All of that had said nothing to me; I had never concerned myself with it. Once I experienced at first hand the significance that Ferrari had for Italy and the tifosi, only then did I grasp that these concepts were well justified. That they originate in a passion for engines and cars among those who build these cars as well as those who admire them. I am certainly not a lyrical man, but this passion I understand well enough. My deep passion is racing, and in that we are very much the same. After my initial misunderstanding I soon felt secure in this context."
When Michael Schumacher arrived at Ferrari, he was already a made man. After he had got into Formula 1 through a combination of talent and luck, he had quickly made a name for himself. He became world champion in 1994, in only his fourth year in Formula 1, and he won the title again in 1995, both times with Benetton, also an Italian racing team but one which operated from England. At first he was received with scepticism in Italy: was a two-times world champion from the greatest national rival now to be the face of the Scuderia? This German, who seemed so cool, distant and pragmatic? One could scarcely have imagined that in the coming years Schumacher would become the face of the Scuderia and would embody the frequently evoked concepts of the Ferrari family like no one else before him.
For 16 years he shaped Formula 1, before ending his driving career in 2006. Nico Rosberg, his team-mate at the new Team Mercedes GP, was just four years old when the record world champion began his career. For 16 years, Schumacher opened himself up to the whole world as he encased himself in the cockpit. He expressed his feelings through racing. The Italian tifosi, who had been so sceptical at the start, had come to understand that over the years. When you call to mind his joy after victories or duels, his passionate drives or his anger after his own mistakes, you realise that his robot image has been more self-protection than truth all along. The team concept was never just PR talk for him. He simply transferred the footballer saying 'the star is the team' over to motorsport. His team felt that and loved him for it.
Michael Schumacher is a man who loves harmony. A combatant on the track, he needs to feel at ease outside the cockpit. The same is true in his private life as it is in his professional one: disagreements disturb his total commitment to his work. He is someone who likes to solve conflicts quickly and satisfactorily for all sides. If they are unsolved, they worry him too much. Therefore it was extremely important for him to have a good relationship with all the technicians, engineers and mechanics in the team. At Ferrari he felt secure, as strange as that may sound. This is one of the reasons his departure was so difficult. When he suddenly and unexpectedly left the team at the end of 2009, he said goodbye to each Ferrari worker with an email: 'Dear Friend,' it read 'The love of Ferrari unites us all, and this love has carried us for years. We have experienced wonderful emotions and celebrated historical successes together over the years. I have found friends, just as you have found a friend in me. Together we have suffered and rejoiced, and we could always rely on each other. That I now, after 14 years, take on a new challenge will change nothing. I would like to thank you emphatically for the warmth, affection, commitment and professional work that I have received from all of you. I have often said, and I would like to repeat it, that every one of you has contributed to this great time. Without each one of you, in the team and in the factory, we would all never have achieved it. We can all be proud of it. I embrace you, Yours Michael.'
Iconic, mysterious and polarising - the attributes of great superstars. They suit Michael as well as they do Ferrari. Perhaps that is the reason this connection was so friendly and so loyal over such a long time. In the 16 seasons up until his first retirement at the end of 2006 he raced for only two teams, or three if you count his first race: Jordan, Benetton and Ferrari. But when you think of Schumacher, you think of red, Ferrari red. In the 60-year-plus history 'With Ferrari, Schumacher matured into a legend, a global celebrity, an example for people from all parts of the world and an acclaimed icon' of Scuderia Ferrari, no other driver before him has raced for so long for the Italian racing team.
When Michael Schumacher first tested for the legendary marque at Maranello at the end of 1995, he was in his mid-twenties and had just married Corinna. During his time at Ferrari he experienced highs and lows in his private life, and they were often linked to a particular race. Thus at an interview on the starting grid of the Italian Grand Prix in 1997, he blurted out that he was to become a father for the first time, which was eagerly taken up by a media always on the lookout for a new story about the Formula 1 star. His strange clownish leap at a race in Hockenheim in another year appeared to be a greeting to the children at home - he had promised Gina and Mick that if he won he would try a leap that they had practised at home on the trampoline.
Small anecdotes about the family, who Schumacher always kept out of the public eye, gave rise to often colourful stories in the tabloids. Whether it was a pinky-red hairbrush that his daughter had given him for luck, or a talisman from Corinna that he could suddenly no longer find at a race in Malaysia (his then physiotherapist Balbir Singh had to drive crazily back to the hotel to fetch the chain because Michael did not want to start without it).
In contrast, the Imola race weekend of 2003 remains a sad memory, when his mother died in a hospital in Cologne some time in the night between Saturday and Sunday. Together with his brother Ralf and their wives, Michael had hurried one last time to the hospital bed on Saturday after qualifying, to then drive a lonely race on Sunday. "Our mother loved to watch us karting," said both brothers. "She would not have wanted us not to be here at the start. We drove for her."
In addition to his family there was the great Ayrton Senna, who had triggered unforgettable moments not only in his own career, but also in Michael Schumacher's - and not only in a sporting respect. Michael saw the Brazilian drive a kart once as a child. At a race in the Netherlands the little Schumacher saw this boy from Brazil who accomplished the greatest things with the kart. "I noticed him immediately because he controlled the kart so playfully and drove such a great line. From that moment I followed his career. I admired Ayrton for the way he drove," he would say later.
When Michael came to Formula 1 years later, Senna was the undisputed top dog and star of the show. But Schumacher had meanwhile acquired considerable self-confidence in the sport thanks to many successes, so it was not long before Senna noticed that a rival he should not underestimate had appeared in the paddock. The stormy clash between them at a test in Hockenheim - when their lines crossed too closely on the route, resulting in Senna reprimanding the youngster - remains unforgotten. Senna's tragically premature death due to his accident at Imola in 1994 took from Formula 1 not only its greatest star, but also the prospect of a fascinating duel between two full-blooded racers. But the remembrance of Senna also gives the Ferrari community one of the most memorable moments in Schumacher's time at Ferrari. Monza 2000.
The German twice-world-champion and his team had been trying for almost five years to bring the world title back to Maranello. In 1997 and 1998 they had lost in the final races; in 1999 an accident had stopped Michael; 2000 had to be the year. The season had begun well, but the summer brought failures and disillusionment. The Italian Grand Prix in Monza was suddenly a fateful race. There had to be a victory or the title would once more disappear over the horizon. Michael won the race, but at the subsequent press conference he lost control. In response to the statement that with this victory he had equalled the number of victories by Senna, he broke into convulsive sobbing, much to everyone's surprise, and which to his great consternation he could not subdue. That moment of distress would in hindsight be the ice-breaker between the Ferrari idol and his fans. "On that day everything was somehow too much for me," explained Michael. "I had found out just before the race that an old acquaintance had suffered a heart attack; then there was the story with the injured track marshal. Additionally the pressure that we absolutely had to win. But when I was told that I had caught up with Ayrton's number of victories that was the final straw that broke the camel's back. For me he was always the best. I had never put myself on the same level as him, but suddenly there was the evidence. I don't know why - suddenly this sobbing burst out of me." The media reacted just as positively as supporters worldwide. "Schumi, we have seen your heart," was the headline in one big German newspaper. And in thousands of emails he met with much sympathy. If proof were still needed that this eager combatant also had a weak side, here it was. Then there was a similar outburst in 2006 at the race in Bahrain.
Michael raced there as undisputed champion, the record holder of his sport, already an icon. He had broken almost every record; only in one area did Ayrton Senna still have the edge: the number of pole positions. At qualifying in Bahrain Michael obtained his 65th pole, equalling Senna's record. Back in the motor home that evening he was suddenly certain that this would be his last season. "Sometimes strange things happen," he said later. "I was never actively chasing these records; I never tried to top these lists. But then there was this sign and it felt like a release. I don't know why but the story of Ayrton is a story that always pursued me. Every time I was confronted with it I became very emotional. Of course you don't want to admit it at the time. You try to hide your emotions, so as not to show weaknesses to others. I believe it's the same for every sportsman. Suddenly I knew how tiring this life was and how much I yearned not to always be travelling around. That was the moment when I decided that it would be my last season. In that moment I felt liberated - and I would never in my dreams have imagined that I would retract this decision three years later.
"In the end, several things came together that made me wonder why I was still doing it. My private situation could not have been better; there were no financial reasons. I roamed about here and there at tests or meetings in which I was no longer really interested. I'm talking about the trappings, the preparation and the continuous debate on what could still be done. Always giving 100 per cent simply sapped your strength. Just after Bahrain, Malaysia and Australia, when in principle my decision had already been made, I caught myself wondering how I had done it all. There were so many hours, so many days, when I had to force myself to test. I don't know whether it's normal wear and tear, but these tests the whole year round kind of wore me down. I was simply tired."
Conspiracy theories surrounded Schumacher's departure from Formula 1. The most popular was that the Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo had thrust him from the team, because he absolutely had to have Kimi Räikkönen and Schumacher did not want the Finn near him. The story went that when Ferrari signed Räikkönen, the German, who according to Montezemolo was too powerful, was forced to withdraw. Another version had it that, after Schumacher had given his okay to sign Räikkönen in 2005, Ferrari CEO Jean Todt had to deceive his supposed friend because Schumacher's designated successor Felipe Massa was managed by Todt's son Nicolas and blood runs thicker than water. As is often the case, the truth was far simpler. After almost 16 years of high-performance sport and almost 13 years in a non-stop battle to be world champion, Schumacher's tank was simply empty. Another year seemed more of a burden than a delight.
When Michael finally announced his decision at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, a small slip-up renewed speculation - the press office wanted to be professional and fast and issued the press release with the news of the retirement immediately after the race. Michael had still not made his decision public at this point because the press conference had not begun. From this many people concluded that he had been bounced into retirement. But his decision was then certain and he was naturally informed about the press release. That it would be at Monza was also not a problem for him. "The timing of the announcement was completely fine. Personally I could have announced it earlier, but Ferrari explained that such things traditionally took place at Monza and I had no problem with that. We decided on Monza together. The good thing then was that I no longer needed to talk rubbish or to seek refuge in excuses. I made my decision in a prevailing mood of positivity. It was going well for me at that time. I was at peace with myself. I always felt it was good that way. And of course I remarked with pleasure that people asked themselves: 'But why? He's still able to compete.' Much better that way than people asking: 'Why is he still driving? He is much too old, he is too slow.' I wouldn't have liked that at all."
Then on October 22, 2006, Schumacher, in what at the time appeared to be the last race of his career, once more gave proof of his driving ability as he fought back after a burst tyre from last place right through the whole field up to fourth, a drive which was celebrated wildly by his team. Together they lived through an era that will enter motorsport history as a golden one for Ferrari. With six constructors' and five drivers' titles, Ferrari was the team of the new century. Consequently, the first phase after his racing career was one in which cars, racing and race tracks played a huge role. You cannot cast off passions so easily.
At first the record world champion was in close contact with the Ferrari Formula 1 team. As a technical advisor he was at the races less and spent more time at the engineers' briefings before or after the grand prix. The technicians of the most successful team had already praised his eye for the essentials, his ability to determine the heart of the problem and to find suggestions for solutions during his time on the track. His experience also helped the young team, which had been completely reconstructed in the key positions after the departure of Schumacher, team principal Jean Todt and technical manager Ross Brawn. But the longer his separation from racing was, the closer Schumacher came to the development of road cars.
His feedback to the engineers in this area was extremely helpful, and Michael himself could satisfy his desire for driving cars. Perhaps the speeds were not so high, perhaps the centrifugal forces were less powerful, but Michael Schumacher also felt that joy in driving at the limit at the road car test drives in Balocco or on the Nurburgring. And just as he had done during his time with Formula 1, he also enjoyed the interaction in the team and the direct implementation of technical feedback.
Not for nothing did the last contract that Schumacher negotiated with Montezemolo (that would not be signed) refer in great part to his work in this area. "I very much enjoyed the work in this field," said Michael. "When I still raced in Formula 1, Ferrari sometimes needed me to test certain models on the racing track because they wanted to know what I would say about their driveability. Later I had much more time for this. The Scuderia, the California and even the Italia were cars with whose development and refinement I was involved - they were all great cars that were fun to drive. I like working in a team, and at Ferrari there is always good cooperation. That was the phase when I could never have imagined ever wanting to race in Formula 1 again; in my eyes that part of my life was completely over. And I believe I was a good recommendation for such cars. I love driving sports cars myself, but sometimes, for example with the family, I also like to cruise and not battle with the car. I looked at the cars from a dual point of view: that of a racing driver and that of a normal customer."
Testing, discussing, analysing, rejecting - Michael Schumacher loved the interaction with the engineers or the mechanics, whether in Formula 1 or with road cars. Teamwork and team spirit were extremely important to him, and because his attitude was so natural, he was always considered a true team player. Michael Schumacher never forgot to praise and draw attention to his team after a victory; he never underestimated how important the motivation of the people around him was. This ability in team building is just one of the characteristics that explain his success, just like his understanding of what makes a team - clear, direct communication and purposeful and solution-oriented discussion. Politics and polemics were never his thing. He shared this understanding with the three people who for a long time formed the inner circle of the so-called dream team: Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. His relationships with these key people in his career were just as loyal as his one with the racing team. This clearly shows in his relationship with Brawn: he attained all his world champion titles in conjunction with the calm, English engineer, and with him he began his last racing phase at the newly-created Silver Arrows.
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari - it was, and is, a profound love. And as is often the case in life with great loves, you forgive the disappointments and wish each other all the best. There is a famous song from Schumacher's home town of Cologne that best describes this relationship. It is called "Niemals geht man so ganz" (One never leaves whole). And so Michael's departure turned out to be very positive. "I am very happy that the split went so harmoniously and we are still linked in friendship," he said after the last team change of his career. "I would like to thank Luca di Montezemolo and the whole team for all the time together and for giving me the opportunity to make friends. Feats such as these create friendships. After these 14 years I will carry a large piece of Ferrari forever in my heart, and I will never forget the attachment and enthusiasm of the tifosi.
"They have borne me around the world with their devotion and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart. I have experienced many wonderful moments with this team. The greatest part of my racing life is red and I feel a strong connection and loyalty to the guys who accompanied me and always produced a great car. This connection will remain with us forever."
The "guys" felt the same connection, giving him a team photo at his last Ferrari race in Brazil in 2006. That was the second time in his career when Schumacher could not hold back his tears on the race track. On the photo is written: "Sei uno di noi" - "You are one of us."
The Official Ferrari Opus is the most lavish and most valuable historical publication of Ferrari that has ever been produced. The Opus weighs in at 37 kilos and is 50 cm by 50 cm, with 852 pages, 200,000 words and more than 2,000 pictures, many of which were specially commissioned for the Opus or come from Ferrari’s historic records and have never previously been published. The Official Ferrari Opus also includes exclusive interviews with the motorsport legends that have been part of Ferrari’s unique history. for further information go to www.ferrariopus.com
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
Dennis Rodman will coach the North Korea basketball team
Arsenal can surprise Bayern Munich in the Champions League, says former midfielder Gilberto Silva
Liverpool - January transfer targets
Transfer news: Liverpool - January transfer targets
Transfer news: Manchester United - January transfer targets
Transfer news: Arsenal - Transfer targets for January
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 4 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile