Cover image for Michael Schumacher : driving force
Title:
Michael Schumacher : driving force
Author:
Comte, Michel, 1953-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
London : Ebury, 2003.
Physical Description:
192 unnumbered pages : illustrations (some color) ; 27 cm
Language:
English
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780091894351
Format :
Book

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GV1032.S38 C66 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Since 1994 Michael Schumacher has dominated Grand Prix, winning the FIA World championship in five of the nine seasons. In 2001/2002 he broke almost every motor racing record and is the most successful Formula One driver of all time. This book reveals the real Michael Schumacher through extensive first person material as well as a narrative by Sabine Kehm, a journalist, colleague and friend of Schumacher. Readers will learn about Schumacher's past, the secrets of his extraordinary success, his family, his view of other drivers and the state of F1, his opinion of controversial races and drivers, and will be given an insider's view of Ferrari.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Racer: A Dramatic Career His head felt congested. Heavy eyes, runny nose and husky voice, almost too deep for a 22 year old. The young Formula 3000 driver had arrived at the youth hostel fighting off a heavy cold. It was the end of August 1991, the night before his first weekend of racing in Formula One. He was not well, though he would never show it. Gritting his teeth, he got on with the job in hand. 'I felt rotten. I was ill with a bad cold, something I often had due to the regular long-haul flights to and from Japan. I knew that this wasn't the best state to be in with the weekend of the race coming up. And I wasn't sleeping well either. It wasn't because of the race itself, but because I had been driving Formula 3000 in Japan, and jet-lag was waking me up in the middle of the night. When I arrived that evening in Spa, I felt weirdly restricted. I had that sense of tunnel vision, when you are only aware of those essential things you have to concentrate on.' One would assume that such days would be engraved on the memory, leaving impressions which would last forever but Michael's memory of that crucial weekend is unusually patchy. They arrived at the youth hostel in the dark and spent the night tossing and turning on camp beds. He remembers there were strange tiles on the walls, 'just like in a school'. The atmosphere was cold and unwelcoming. 'Everything was a funny greeny-blue.' Michael doesn't even remember that he slept in the same room as his manager, Willi Weber. It demonstrates how Schumacher functions, how he functioned even then: never bother with trivialities, or unimportant details, only the essentials count. You have to focus on them, with all the strength at your disposal. It was pure coincidence that Spa-Francorchamps would be Michael Schumacher's first race. Eddie Jordan urgently needed a driver for his up-and-coming team because his official driver, Bertrand Gachot, had suddenly found himself in jail after an altercation with a London taxi driver. Schumacher was summonsed thanks to his manager Willi Weber, the man with whom he shared the room that weekend in the youth hostel, the man who had given him a drive in his Formula Three team, the man who has subsequently guided Michael's career with such care and foresight, constantly pestering Eddie Jordan. The situation was helped by the fact that Michael's other patron, Jochen Neerpasch, was able to bring to bear the illustrious name of Mercedes. But as much as anything else it was the result of the impression made by the young Formula 3000 driver in testing at Silverstone. Looking back, however, many Formula One fans regard the fact that Spa was Michael 's first race as anything but coincidence. They see it as somehow predestined, because Schumacher immediately felt himself completely at home on the impressive Ardennes circuit, and because it seems as if this circuit and Michael's Formula One career are intertwined in some indefinable way, as if his life as a racing driver revolves round the enormous corners of this track which he loves so much. In Spa he has experienced glittering highpoints, as well as nerve-shattering crises. 'This circuit is something very special, it has a character all its own. It is a real challenge for every driver, it demands every ounce of your ability. It is far and away my favourite circuit.' Michael is not easily impressed, but when he is talking about the one time Spa-Francorchamps Grand Prix Spa, he becomes lyrical and his eyes brighten. Perhaps Michael's devotion to Spa stemmed from the fact that he gained his first impressions of the circuit on a bicycle. You get a much more immediate and physical sense of its tremendous difficulty on a bicycle. Never to have driven a circuit like this before is a real competitive disadvantage, and the crafty Weber had assured Jordan that the difficult circuit was indeed a part of his protégé's repertoire - a little white lie. 'There was a story that Willi was asked if I knew the Spa track, and he said that I had already driven it, which wasn't true. Luckily, they only asked Willi. I just kept quiet and said nothing ,' Michael laughs. So he went and pedalled round the whole hilly track on his bike, and fell in love with it. 'The first corner is not particularly demanding, in a car you brake at about 80 metres, the track is a bit bumpy and drops away to the inside a little at the end, which is why it's easy to lock the right front wheel. And then it's downhill for a while, and I still remember how incredibly surprised I was at its steepness. When you see a track on the TV screen, you don't get a proper impression, especially in Spa, of how hilly it is. Approaching Eau Rouge, it is phenomenal how the angle changes from the entry to the exit. It's mainly Eau Rouge that makes Spa so special. That hollow is a bit like driving up a wall. It climbs and slopes, uphill and down dale. It's totally unique, and very demanding. The only similar experience is Suzuka, and parts of the NŸrburgring, but there the corners are too flowing and wide. If you don't get your line right at Eau Rouge, or are too slow, you're scuppered. 'Or take Suzuka where there are a number of S-bends and if you get it right, you can make up a lot of time. On one Suzuka corner, the 130 R, you get a speed reading at the exit and once I clocked 306 kilometres an hour. Moments like that are absolutely tremendous. These high-speed corners make enormous demands on you, but if you get it right, it's a fantastic kick. On the S-bends, you get into a rhythm and feel as if you are really flying. With the speedometer registering an extreme speed you get the sense that you have almost achieved perfection. To drive into one of the ordinary chicanes, braking and then driving through is nothing special because there is hardly anything you can do wrong. Perhaps one of your wheels could stick, and then you could lose control of your steering, but it's the high-speed corners which are the test. They are spectacular and you experience extreme lateral-G force. You have to brake and keep the car under control and you're driving the whole time at the limit. 'Race driving is not a test of courage or a feat of strength. You have to be able to tell whether the car can take a particular corner at a particular speed or not. It is up to you to know how you take this corner but if you need courage to do it, you have a problem. It's about knowing where the limits lie. And Spa is unique in this respect because it has combinations of demanding corners, which require a particular kind of skill. And the landscape in which it is located is unbelievably beautiful.' It was the first practice session, on that Friday before Michael's Formula One debut. He was standing on the lorry in which the screws and spare parts are stored, right at the back and a long way from the door. Angular face, keeping his thoughts to himself. With a determined look, he slipped the fireproof vest rapidly over his head, pulled up the green overall, put his arms into the sleeves, and did up the zip. On the collar flap, the name of fellow team-mate de Cesaris had been covered over with masking tape, and Schumacher's name written on it. There was no money for an overall of his own, and anyway who knew how long this driver would be in the team? Slowly and carefully Michael folded the end of one collar flap over the other. The overall was a bit too big, a bit too baggy, but who cared. Cut out what's unimportant, concentrate on the essentials. Michael looked up briefly at the roof of the lorry and took a deep breath. Then he straightened up and walked with rapid strides across to the garage. By the end of the weekend's racing the experts had a new name to conjure with - Michael Schumacher. He was clearly someone to watch; a driver who was going places. He had come through the weekend of the race as if to confirm his manager's statement that he had often been round the Belgian circuit. It was a hint of what was to come. In his first Formula One qualifying session ever, the unknown youngster sensationally fought his way to eighth place, springing a major surprise at the dangerous Blanchimont corner. 'We worked hard on the tuning of the Jordan so that I was able to take Blanchimont at full throttle. That gained us valuable time. You can do that with Formula One cars today but it wasn't always possible then.' And with this daring stroke Michael won himself the attention of the established drivers. On Sunday the race itself was over for him after only 500 metres due to a damaged clutch. 'I had a very good start and immediately moved up to fifth or so, and wondered why it was all so simple, and why the others all braked so early. As a result I was nearly the cause of the first accident, a frightening moment at the first corner which immediately cost me another place. But then straight after, it was finished: a big disappointment.' Talking today about 25 August 1991, Michael is not particularly nostalgic. Any such feelings are outweighed by his disappointment at having to drop out so early. His nostalgia is reserved for another moment, just a week before, when he sat for the first time in one of the world's most powerful cars on his first test day as a Formula One pilot. 'When we drove over to the track for the first test drive I had a rather funny feeling in my stomach,' Willi Weber recalls. Michael felt much the same. 'When I got into the car for the first time at Silverstone, that was the really special moment. Much more so than the race at Spa, when I just turned up and drove. That was nothing much to speak of. But the test beforehand was an incredible experience, and a much greater challenge. It was much tougher because I had absolutely no idea at that point what the future held for me, and how I would cope. I can remember the first three laps very clearly. On the first lap I thought: oops, there goes your Formula One career, it's over. The car was incredibly impressive, so powerful, and at the same time difficult to drive. On the second lap, I was thinking, Well, not bad, but still had somewhat mixed feelings. But then by the third, I was really comfortable with the car. I had a feel for it, saw I was getting the hang of things, and that driving it wasn't beyond me. It seemed that everything was OK but I couldn't be one hundred per cent certain because none of the other Jordan drivers had tested, just two from Arrows, and we only had the times from some earlier tests as points of reference. And I was on used tyres, not new ones. I can't remember precisely what the times were, 1.55, more or less the same as the others, but because I was on used tyres, that was fine.' After the first three laps on the south circuit, Michael did a further 33 laps that day, setting the lap record for Jordan at Silverstone, previously held by the established driver Andrea de Cesaris. His calmness and outstanding adaptability were strikingly apparent even on this first test drive. In 1991, unlike today, it was a gigantic step from Formula 3000 to Formula One. It was a matter of driving completely different cars, the grip was so much greater than in the smaller class, the deceleration much more fierce and the acceleration more intense. Everything was so much faster, but Michael made the switch quickly and easily. Even the fact that he had to test drive with chassis 191 - the one he was due to drive in the grand prix a few days later - and that a crash would have meant the end of his big chance, didn't cause him to drive with exaggerated care. And he began as he meant to go on, by breaking a record. He was in his element. 'At first you think how fabulous this is, how fabulous the people are, and what an incredible point in your life this is going to be, what a great step. Jordan was a great team to be working with. But then everything very quickly got back to normal.' It is significant that when Michael looks back, he often talks of his next race, at Monza, as his first Formula One race: 'The first time I raced, I never had any idea that I would make it so far. That was in Monza in 1991 when I drove further than 500 metres for the first time. I got into a wheel to wheel with the great Ayrton Senna because he was having difficulties right at the beginning of the race, and I was able to chase and attack him, even though I couldn't find a way to overtake. That was the moment I realised that we all only cook with water. If someone is sitting in the right car at the right time, they can beat anyone. I realised that then, and still believe it today.' The test drive at Silverstone, the race at Spa, and then the abrupt change of team. The experts were astonished. In the next race at Monza in November 1991, Michael was already wearing a yellow overall, and this one had his own name on it. Within those two weeks, his life had completely changed. 'Switching to Benetton was my big chance for the future. We knew at that time that Jordan was going to get Yamaha engines, and we felt that this would be catastrophic. And when this chance came up, we grabbed it. It wasn't exactly pleasant, driving barely 500 metres for the team which had given me the opportunity to get started, and then to immediately drop them. But that was what I had to do at the time.' One year later, 1992, back in Spa and it was raining. Typical Ardennes weather, overcast, changeable, damp and foggy. Fans worldwide will come to call this 'Schumi weather', because no one drives with such reliable instinct under these conditions. Formula One cars have no windscreen, there's just a visor to protect the driver's eyes, and this often mists over. In the rain, vision is down to virtually nil, spray blurs the contour of the cars almost completely, and driving becomes a mixture of experience, touch, and trusting that your fellow competitors will drive sensibly. Michael had been a Formula One driver for a year. He achieved his first podium place at the beginning of the 1992 season in Mexico, and he knew that he could hold his own going for a win. The slip-up occurred in lap 30. Lying in third place and approaching Stavelot, Michael was battling with team-mate Martin Brundle, when he slid off into the gravel trap. Brundle overtook him. Michael was lucky, he recovered from the spin and got back on the track. But sitting behind Brundle, he noticed that his tyres were completely worn, and knew that he had to get into the pits straightaway. Both cars had been prepared identically for the race, and as a consequence the tyres on both would have undergone the same wear and tear. A rapid radio message to the pit wall: 'I'm coming in for a tyre change.' While the rest of the drivers were struggling to cope with the conditions, and skidding about on the wet track, Schumacher made his way to the pits and had rain tyres fitted. Just this one lap on the right tyres gave him a decisive advantage over his rivals. A few hours later, it's still raining and the man who, over the years to come, will be up there more often than any other driver before, stood on the podium for the first time. 'Of course it's nice to think back to that first victory. It was a rather curious business, because I won as a result of an error. It was obvious that my tyres would be in the same condition as Martin's, and the thought shot through my mind: I've got to get to the pits immediately. The decision was worth its weight in gold, because under those conditions the tyre change gave me a five-second lead, and to that extent my team-mate helped me to achieve the win, for which I am very grateful. It was a great feeling to be on the podium, and it took a long time to sink in.' If they had not already realised, the established drivers now knew that they had a serious rival to contend with. German racing fans had had to wait 17 long years for a victory by a German driver. Jochen Mass had won in 1975 in Spain, under tragic circumstances after an accident in which Rolf Stommelen was badly injured and five spectators and a fire marshall were killed. Schumacher dedicated his win to the fans. He was overjoyed at the time, but in retrospect is surprised at his emotions: 'Looking back, I wouldn't say that it was my finest victory. I really enjoyed those moments when they were happening, but afterwards I wanted to move on to the next challenge. That's the way things functioned then, but my reactions aren't so extreme now. When I became World Champion for the fifth time in 2002 at Magny Cours, I was much more moved than I was in Spa a decade earlier. I've no idea why, perhaps it's down to age. Perhaps these things have a different value later in life. And besides, one win is one thing, but five championships is much more. 'I think another factor is that when I first came in to Formula One, I didn't really understand what it was all about. I could drive fast, of course, but I had little idea about the complexity of the whole business, which little wheel you had to set in motion in order to get everything going. At that time I was a greenhorn. Over the years, you grow into it much more, feel yourself much more of a link in the chain. In effect, I just used to drive. It's true that the engineers would listen to my views, but they didn't know how they were supposed to evaluate them. Things are certainly different today, and that's why I feel differently, feel I am much more a part of things, and consequently get much more satisfaction from the victories. From certain little gestures, I can see what the engineers are thinking, how they are weighing up what I have to say, what value they attach to it. And that's why I am much more emotional today than I used to be, because I am much more involved - at least that is one of the reasons for it.' Year on year Michael has always produced something special at Spa. It's where he grew to be a star, and where some of the most extraordinary elements of the Schumacher legend occurred. Take 1994, for instance, when he was on the way to his first World Championship. Most reporters had already left to go home, the news of Michael's most recent victory in Belgium was already in print when, late that evening, came the news from the World Motor Sports Council that Michael was to be disqualified because of a breach of the 10mm minimum clearance regulations for the underside of the car. The lower panel had been worn down below the allowed limit. 'I made a stupid mistake at the chicane combination. I drove too wide leaving the left-hand corner, the rear wheel hit the dirt, and the car spun off the course. But I was quite lucky. I was going so fast, the car swung round through 360 degrees and I was able to carry on. But on the spin I clattered over the kerb and ruined the skid block. This led to the much discussed disqualification. I can almost laugh about it today, because ultimately everything turned out fine.' But it was no laughing matter at the time. This was one of the significant events of Michael's career. Due to the gearbox problem and changeable weather, he had only managed 16th place in qualifying and his rival Damon Hill was in 8th. After the first lap, Hill was 6th, Michael 13th, and a lap later they were 5th and 10th respectively. By the third lap Hill was in 5th and Michael was 8th. On lap 14 Hill was in the lead and Michael was in 3rd. One lap later Hill and Berger went into the pits before him and Michael was at the head of the field. In 15 laps he had fought his way from 16th at the start to first. Three laps later he went into the pits and then the rain came. Hill changed to rain tyres. Michael didn't. Despite frequent demands from his race engineer, Pat Symonds, to change to rain tyres, he kept ahead of Damon Hill in the rain on his slicks. 'That was a real ding-dong battle with Damon. He was actually faster than me, we were driving on different tyres in mixed conditions, and, as the saying goes, somehow my car was wider than his . At any rate, I made it difficult for him to pass. On the section coming up to Blanchimont you're at full throttle, but there are corners, and you can choose your line so as to make things difficult for your opponent. I remember there was quite a lot of discussion at the time. Damon wasn't entirely in agreement with the line I took. Personally, I thought it was really rather good.' The young up-and-coming driver had found himself at the centre of an extremely controversial season, the repercussions of which continue to rumble on even today. Following Spa he was in an alarming situation - although he had had a good start to the season, his lead in the World Championship was under threat. This was meant to be the breakthrough season, the first challenge for the World Championship title, but it was overshadowed by a number of inconsistencies and irregularities. Much more seriously the season saw the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. 'Schummi the cheat' stuck to Michael in the way rubber sticks to tarmac. There were constant whispers from his opponents about breaches of regulations by the World Championship leader's team. Constant questions and endless wrangling, sometimes with the World Motor Sports Council. Rumours about a banned traction control, the ignored black flag at Silverstone for which Michael received a two-race ban, the faulty refuelling jig at Hockenheim. These reports repeatedly overshadowed Schumacher's performances behind the wheel. He achieved second place in Barcelona with the car stuck in fifth gear for almost the whole race and his victory in the rain at Spa was further testimony to his immaculate touch. Not until the very last race of the 1994 season would the World Championship title be decided. Against this dramatic backdrop, Michael and Damon were to clash yet again. After Silverstone, Michael had received a two-race ban for ignoring a black flag, and, in addition, the points for that race and the race at Spa were deducted, in effect losing him the points from four races. Adelaide was to be the climax and Michael had just a one-point advantage over Damon. Lap 36 and Michael suddenly slid off on to the grass and into the wall. Either some part of his front suspension was damaged or his tyres were clogged with mud and grass but as a result controlling his car was difficult. Hill tried to pass on the inside but Michael defended his line and closed the gap, actually driving over Damon's front wheel (an unwritten rule of Formula One is that that the corner belongs to the man in front, and that was clearly Schumacher). Discussions after the race were heated because Schumacher and Hill took opposing views of events. 'Those long minutes standing out on the track, waiting for the outcome were tense. I was completely distraught and didn't know what to do with myself. I didn't know what had happened to Damon, and knew that we both had a big points advantage over the drivers in fourth, fifth and sixth place. And so it wouldn't be a problem for Damon to pick up the one point I had over him. Out there, you don't know what's going on, so I tried to listen to the track commentator. It was difficult because I could only hear snatches of what he was saying, the rest was drowned out by the cars roaring past. I watched out for Damon going past, then I heard something aboutÉ "Hill into the pits ... problems ... can he go again"É but he never reappeared. I didn't know what to think, didn't know whether to be pleased or not, my feelings were very mixed. The waiting was awful. A steward came up, stretched out his hand to congratulate me, but I still wasn't sure. When it was finally confirmed, the feeling was indescribable. I was so confused, it was difficult to get things straight. It took a long time to really sink in that I was World Champion.' Excerpted from Michael Schumacher: Driving Force by Michael Schumacher, Sabine Kehm All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.