We’re a few days into the new year and the return to work is looming over many of us, but there’s one gentleman (if you can call him that) out there who’ll be particularly happy right now – Mr Michael Schumacher.  Sure, he also has the return to work approaching, but we doubt he’ll be dreading it and, as for today – it’s his birthday, and his 41st at that.  Most of us wouldn’t have the luxury of retiring at the age of 37, and even fewer of us would consider coming back four years later, but Michael is no ordinary man – he’s commonly known as one of the few great legends of motor sport with his complete and utter domination of F1 in the naughties after championships in the late 90s.

The rumours that dragged on for months about his return to the F1 scene for 2010 after nearly doing so in 2009 kept the media machine busy and talking about F1, then, just as we were all tiring of it, Mercedes Grand Prix go and confirm that the Marmite (as in ‘love him or hate him’) driver is in fact to partner Nico Rosberg for forthcoming season – blimey.  Below is an artists impression of the moment Mercedes grabbed Michael for a moment outside the prancing horse’s stables… he looks happy doesn’t he…

Schumacher is pleased to be offered the keys to a Mercedes F1 car

So, if you’re an F1 fanatic and have been following the sport since the early nineties or before, then you will have seen this chap make his F1 debut at Spa, you would have been wowed my his rise to the top and outright speed… and then most likely disgusted with some of his on-track antics when the pressure was on and equally enjoyed watching him lose it with other drivers off the track.  After getting over some of his more ‘contorversal’ (understatement?) moments you may have grown to respect his authority on the sport… until he then most likely bored you for a few seasons by not letting anyone else have a go.  He probably then shocked you in 2006 by announcing his retirement when everyone believed he had a few more years left in him.

Separated at birth? Some think so... (the chins match)

Now, if you’re an F1 newbie, maybe you joined in in watching the sport with the meteoric rise of Lewis Hamilton – then you may wonder what all the fuss is about with the news of Schumacher’s return.  Yes, of course everyone knows he’s won more championships than there are Star Wars films and has cheated (well, bent rules) more than Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races, but there’s more to him than meets the eye…

Whether you’re a newbie or a fanatic, here are our highlights and low-lights of Michael Schumacher:

The highlights:

Records are there to be broken… winning 7 championships is a fine record and will no doubt remain unbeaten for decades (let’s hope so), but it’s only the tip of the iceberg with Michael – he has the record for most F1 poles, most F1 wins, the highest start/win ratio (of those that have started more than 100 races), most consecutive titles, most wins with a single team, most consecutive podium finishes, most wins at the same grand prix, most wins at different grands prix, most number of laps lead, most doubles (pole position and win), most wins in a season, highest percentage of wins in a season (since 1952), the most fastest laps…. oh and the list goes on.  In 2010 he could further improve his records and could get himself a couple more – he won’t be the oldest F1 driver to start a race, he’s 17years off that, but he’s currently still in the top 10 youngest drivers to win a grand prix and if he does score a victory in 2010 then he’ll be in the top 10 oldest to score a victory too and the only driver to be in both top 10s at the same time – now that’s impressive.

1991 debut - Michael's first F1 car

Knowing the limit… time and time again, when the rain came down during a grand prix, we’d see Schumacher dominate – he’d seemingly have some superhero style sense of grip and be able to find and drive at the limit while others just looked slow and useless.  He scored many victories in the wet, sure he wasn’t flawless but, as with every other F1 legend, he seemed to raise his game on a wet track.

Personality / public image… right, so there are probably far more highlights of Michael Schumacher’s career that we’ve overlooked, but one factor that is often overlooked by others is his personality and public image.  Yes, he’s German and therefore stereotypically known for having a lack of any sense of humour (but he did help Top Gear out in their ‘the real stig’ episode), but his post-race press conferences and interactions with the media were always insightful and genuine (i.e. not a media facade… the words coming out may not have been genuine… do you follow?) and because of his well-publicised antics on the track he built up a persona of being the evil / most feared driver in F1.  Commentators used to claim that drivers would often just fall off the track if they saw the red Ferrari of Schumacher in their mirrors – a pretty fair comment.  His perception of the dangerous, unpredictable and ruthless one helped add a bit of spice to the 20 or so cars going around in circles and we all knew that if there was a climax to a battle between him and someone else it stood about as much chance of being clean as Gordon Brown has of winning the next election.

The lowlights

1994 final round… This was the beginning of the words “schumacher” and “cheat” being used together – during the 1994 World Championship it was a close fight between him in a Benetton and Damon Hill in a Williams and the fight went down to the wire in Adelaide.  Hill needed to finish the race ahead of Michael Schumacher to clinch the title – it was that simple and all Michael had to do was finish ahead of Hill if he were to win it… or so we thought.  The other option would be that neither driver to finish leaving Michael with a single point advantage and the championship.  Hill followed closely behind Schumacher until the German ran wide giving Hill the chance he needed to overtake, which he took only for Schumacher to close the door and drive in the side of him.  It took Schumacher out of the race… and then Hill had to retire because his car was damaged.  Michael claimed his first world title and also went straight to the top of every British fans hate list.

[flashvideo file=http://www.f1badger.com/wp-content/uploads/vids/hill-schumacher-1994.mp4 height=320 width=580 controlbar=over /]

Further cheating… We’d be here all day if we listed every other controversial moment and YouTube evidence of Michael’s career – he may have cheated, or he may have bent the rules – it’s open to debate, but one thing is certain, he’s been in the thick of it more than most… so to name a few:

  • Penalty avoidance – Schumacher was given stop/go penalty with only five laps of a race remaining.  The rules state that the penalty must be taken within five laps of it being issued.  Put two and two together and Michael get’s five.  He came in the pits on the fifth lap after being given the penalty, which was also the final lap of the race – can you guess where his pit garage was? – Yep, it was beyond the finish line of course…. clever boy.
  • History repeats itself…nearly – in 1997, Jacques Villeneuve won the drivers title… but only after a season long fight with Michael, a fight that ended in Jerez when Jacques overtook Michael, who then tried to do the same that he did to Hill in ’94… but failed – evidence here on YouTube
  • Monte Carlo car park – It’s a tight and twisty track, and Michael’s particularly good at it, but in 2006 when fighting for the title against Fernando Alonso, his shocked everyone by ‘losing it’ during the final moments in qualifying – losing it in such a way that his car was left blocking the track while Alonso was on a quick lap and Michael currently had pole position.  It helped ensure that Michael’s final year in F1 reminded us of his tricks and foul play from throughout his career.
Michael's 2010 car could look like this...

Putting the past behind us, let’s look ahead to 2010 and the return of Michael Schumacher – it adds another level of excitement to the season, and in terms of Michael’s return it’s going to be interesting because:

Ross Brawn – the man than who engineered Michael’s 7 titles will be engineering his 2010 campaign too – don’t think it is just chance that the pair have ended up together again.  With Ross’ tenacity and strategic input, an 8th title cannot be completely out of the window.

The Car – it dominated the first half of 2009 and was still in the top 3 in terms of pace by the final round.  Add the so-called Schumacher factor and it could quite reasonably be one of, if not the fastest of all the cars in 2010.

Reputation – it’s not possible to rewrite the past, but Michael could have a clean year and remind us that he doesn’t have to cheat to win.  On the flip-side he could damage his ‘legend’ status by completely under performing and looking slow relative to Hamilton, Vettel, Massa, Alonso and maybe even Nico Rosberg.

Friends – this is a little controversial, but Schumacher has always had friends in useful places.  In 1994 Flavio Briatore was leading the Benetton team when Schumacher ‘crashed’ into Hill and we all know what Flavio was involved with in 2008/9.  When winning his other titles with Ferrari, the FIA was also often referred to as Ferrari International Assistance and he did manage to get away with scandals pretty lightly.  He doesn’t have a red car this time around, but friend and former red-team boss Jean Todt is in charge of the FIA… with aforementioned Ross Brawn, a former red team colleague of Mr Todt in charge at Mercedes, the conspiracies will no doubt start early.

Over to you

What’s your take on Michael Schumacher?  Pleased to have him back, do you like or loathe him, or maybe you don’t really care either way.  Whatever your opinion, share it below and join us in wishing Mr Schumacher a very happy birthday.