On 3 January 1969, Michael Schumacher was born in the small town of Hürth, Germany – he’d go on to become the most successful Formula One driver of all time. For his 50th birthday this week, everyone in the sport has been wishing him well and remembering his legacy as he recovers at home after a life-changing skiing accident. Regardless of what you think of the man, he leaves behind him quite an extraordinary record.
Very few names are so synonymous with Formula One as that of Michael Schumacher. With 91 race wins and seven FIA Formula One Drivers’ World Championships, he is an absolute icon of the sport who has dominated the series like no one else.
Says Mercedes’ Toto Wolff: “Not only did he set an incredible record – a record that is yet to be beaten – but he also shaped and changed the sport forever. As a driver, Michael took Formula One to a whole new level with his attention to detail and his technical knowledge. He did everything with great determination, from his engineering debriefs to his physical training, and was always searching for new ways to improve his on-track performance.”
Michael took some of his first steps as a professional racing driver with Mercedes when he joined the brand’s junior programme in 1990, racing in Group C sports cars and DTM. Together with Karl Wendlinger, he won the last race of the season in sports car racing- Michael’s first and only victory with Mercedes.
He moved to Formula One in the following year, racing for Jordan before joining Benetton with whom he went on to win the Drivers’ World Championship in 1994 and 1995. One year later, Michael switched to Ferrari, where he laid the foundations for one of the most successful eras in Formula One. He stayed with the team from Maranello for a decade and won five consecutive Drivers’ (2000-2004) and six consecutive Constructors’ (1999-2004) Championships with the Scuderia.
Michael retired from Formula One after the 2006 campaign; however, when Mercedes re-joined Formula One as a works team in 2010, he made his return to the series as a driver. Working with the team in Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart, Michael played an important role in developing the long-term capabilities of the team that were the foundation of Mercedes’ future success in F1.
“I remember when I first met Michael back in 2012, it was on a flight from Zürich to Singapore,” recalls Toto. “He was sitting next to me and asked me if I was up for a game of backgammon. I think that I’m a decent backgammon player, but he absolutely crushed me in the first two rounds because I was so star-struck. Once I was over that, my game improved, and we ended up playing and talking for the entire flight. We had a really good and honest conversation and when we landed it felt like I had known him for much longer than I actually did.”
At that point, Michael only had a handful of races with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport left before he retired from Formula One at the end of 2012. He never won an F1 race in a Mercedes, but he played an important role in the success the team would enjoy in subsequent years.
“Michael is one of the founding fathers of the success we have had in the last five years,” says Toto. “There is no other driver like him and his vast experience contributed tremendously in the development of our team. He played a crucial role when we re-joined F1 and was one of the people who laid the foundation for our future success. We’re extremely grateful for everything he did for us. Today, we all tip our hats to you – happy birthday, Michael!”