Michael Schumacher: The seven-time world champion's career in Formula One

A look at the most successful driver to have ever competed in F1

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The Independent Online

From the age of four, Michael Schumacher was destined to make a career in motor racing. His father, Rolf, owned a karting track which Michael and his brother Ralf soon took a shining to.

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The seven-time world champion wasn't always such a safe pair of hands behind the wheel. He crashed his first ever motorised kart built by his father into a tree, but by the age of 18 he had already secured both the German and European kart championships. He was ready to step up a gear.

What followed was a remarkable and unrivalled career through Formula Ford, Formula Three, Sportscars and most prominently Formula One.

The German driver retired from the sport for the second time last year, and remains the most successful man to ever grace the sport. His seven world championship wins – two with Benetton and five with Ferrari – saw him overtake Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of five successes in 2002.

Schumacher could well have had an incredible eighth title to his name had he not suffered a terrifying crash at the British Grand Prix in 2000, when he suffered a broken leg while leading the driver’s championship. His absence saw McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen go on to claim a second successive title, but the German made a quick recover to return before the end of the season.

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His comeback from injury saw him claim Ferrari’s first world title since 1979, and instantly earn his way into the heart of every Tifosi fan who so passionately supported him when he joined the marque in 1996.

Having made an immediate impression on the F1 paddock, Schumacher emerged as a genuine title contender in 1994, once the dominance of firstly McLaren and then Williams had ended. The third Grand Prix of that season though was one that would have a serious impact on both Schumacher himself and the sport as a whole.

F1 legend Ayrton Senna was leading the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola with Schumacher behind in hot pursuit when the Brazilian’s Williams went off at the Tambarello corner at high speed. Senna suffered fatal head injuries, although the race continued as the three-time world champion was air-lifted to hospital before he was later announced dead. The sport had already been shocked by the death of Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying the day before.

Following Schumacher’s success at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the German broke down in tears during a regulatory press conference when asked what matching Senna’s number of wins meant to him. For a man seen as the stereotypical ‘bad guy’ of Formula One, it was a rare outpouring of emotion from someone so machine-like in his dominance behind the wheel. Schumacher has never spoken of that moment since.

Having won back-to-back title in 1994 and 1995 (albeit in highly controversial circumstances after he clashed with Damon Hill) Schumacher switched to Ferrari in an attempt to revive the famous manufacturer to its former glory.

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Alongside team principal Jean Todt and technical director Ross Brawn, who moved with Schumacher to Benetton, he competed with the Williams duo of Hill and Jacques Villeneuve for the 1996 and 1997 title, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

The next two seasons brought a terrific battle with the McLaren pairing of Hakkinen and David Coulthard that saw the Finn claim the title back-to-back, with the German suffering his broken leg at Silverstone on the first lap of the 1999 British Grand Prix.

His return was the making of him, as he went on to secure his place in history by winning the next five world championships in a period of dominance for Ferrari of the likes had never been seen before.

The 2003 season was a particular highlight for the Ferrari man as he had two young upstarts challenging him for the title - Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya - with Schumacher taking the title by just two points over the Finn that would later replace him once he retired for the first time.

After a two-year battle with then-Renault driver Fernando Alonso, Schumacher announced in an emotional radio message to his team that he would be retiring at the end of the season. But their would be no fairy-tale ending as Alonso clinched the championship ahead of Schumacher.

Now a regular on the pitwall. Schumacher was all set for a comeback when his former team-mate and close friend Felipe Massa suffered a serious eye injury when a spring fell off Rubens Barichello's Williams and struck his fellow Brazilian's helmet, knocking Massa unconscious and sending him into the tyre wall during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009.

But a bike crash earlier that year had left Schumacher with a concussion and a long-standing neck injury, and he was deemed unfit to compete after taking part in a test session, with the woeful Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella standing in for Massa instead.

However, a year later saw the awaited return of Schumacher with the Mercedes team after Brawn GP were taken over by the German manufacturer. The comeback failed to live up to its billing, with a lone third-placed finish coming in the 2012 European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia standing as Schumacher's best finish in the three-year stint.

When Lewis Hamilton signed for Mercedes towards the end of the year, it signalled the second and final retirement for the most successful driver the sport had seen.