Although we haven’t heard from him or his family for quite a while, we still think about the ‘red baron’. Michael Schumacher still holds the highest number in Formula One world championships. Although his record is being chased down by the Brit, Lewis Hamilton, we still hold his career to be the epitome of what it means to be an F1 pilot. As the cars have changed and the rules have altered the technology teams can use, we are witnessing a slow but exciting new era of F1 develop before our eyes. The 2021 F1 rule changes seem to be going ahead, despite the 2020 season not starting at all. As this change occurs, we will be talking about so many topics that don’t involve Schumacher. And yet, he’ll always be in the back of our minds. So why, was he so good?
Qualifying and race consistency
The trouble with Ferrari in 2018 and 2019 was, they were quick in qualifying, but their race pace was lackluster. Mercedes would regularly be topped in Q3 but they somehow managed a 1-2 finish. The silver arrows kept pulling in front of their rivals in the scarlet dream. We look at the Ferrari drivers and they seem to be high-quality. Vettel is a four-time world champion, Raikkonen is a veteran of the V10 era and Charles is obviously faster than people thought. Yet, none of these drivers could keep their performances consistent from qualifying to the chequered flag. Yes, there are a whole host of issues, such as Ferrari having bad race management but this shows another problem that Schumacher didn’t have.
Part of being consistent is providing leadership. There didn’t seem to be anyone in the Ferrari camp for the past 2 years, that was a dominant personality and could back up their talk. Schumacher, on the other hand, would be ruthless in his approach. He would listen to the engineers and work closely with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn, but everyone knew he was going to decide the strategy. When all was said and done, he led the team and backed up his demands with victories.
Tremendous work on the wheel
Schumi’s driving style has yet to be matched in F1. It might be an arrogant thing to say, but nobody had such a fluid and aggressive driving style as Michael. His steering inputs were incredibly rapid. He would make minor corrections, before, during and after a turn. This meant that the car was set up in a way that would be responsive and a little ‘twitchy’. It leads one to believe that he liked a slightly unstable oversteering car. Just this alone, shows he had the talent to manage the car using his ability to feel and adjust the car’s movements at breakneck speed.
Schumi would also actively perform trail braking and keep, as Martin Brundle once said, ‘forward motion’, even while he was slowing the car down and going through corners. Others call trail braking ‘rolling braking’ because the car is being made to go through a corner while technically being too fast to make it. This is why he was so attentive on the wheel, making slight corrections as the car was attempting to spin due to oversteering.
He wasn’t stone cold
Although he was incredibly mentally tough, he wasn’t cold to his fans, the media or other drivers. Footage of Schumacher and Mika, going through the overtake manoeuvre the latter performed on the former at Spa, is one of the all-time great clips of V10 era F1 racing. He was also known to sometimes wear his heart on his sleeve. Most notably, he broke down during a press conference after equalling Senna’s number of race victories. He also had a lot of time for fans, signing f1 memorabilia that can still be found today. This Ferrari cap, signed by him, comes in a glass-framed package, with photographs of the now immortal F2004 Ferrari. The car that won him his final and record-shattering 7th World Championship title.
He set the standard
It’s very well documented that Senna enjoyed spending time with his personal engineer, trying to set up the car as best he could. However, no one was such a hound for detail as Schumacher. He wanted to study every graph, every torque curve, every corner speed and know exactly what the car was doing and why. Before him, drivers would do their thing and pop off to get a bite to eat and go back to the hotel. With Schumi, you knew you would fall behind if you weren’t obsessing over every little fraction of lost time.
There will always be someone who will beat a long-standing record. But we will always have a place in our hearts for the first man to achieve something. That’s why in so many ways, Schumacher is seen as the one who set the modern F1 driver’s standard.