Michael Schumacher, a controversial great

Michael Schumacher's position as a Formula One icon, the most successful driver in the history of the sport, is assured

Michael Schumacher, a controversial great

Whether Ferrari's seven-time world champion is also the greatest is another question, one guaranteed to trigger endless debate long after the ever-controversial German has finally left the stage.

It is one that has dogged Schumacher ever since he overtook the late Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five championships in 2003.

For more than a decade, Formula One has been divided by the behaviour of a man blessed with sublime talents and some all too obvious failings.

He is one of the greats, a figure who transcends his sporting arena as a global celebrity familiar even to those far removed from the world of motor racing.

A generation of fans has grown up watching Schumacher punch the air as he performs his familiar victory leap, fans who have revelled in his skill in the rain at Spa and celebrated alongside him in his native Germany.

There are plenty of others, however, who feel that the 37-year-old's career has been too chequered for him to be due the worship accorded to Fangio, Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna - even if the latter was no angel himself.

There have been accusations of cheating, after his first title success in 1994 when he collided with Briton Damon Hill to win by a point, and again in 1997 when he tried to barge Canadian Jacques Villeneuve off the track.

This year's Monaco Grand Prix, when Schumacher was punished for deliberately impeding rivals to ensure he took pole position, was the latest in a list of controversies to have enraged rivals over time.

"Where Schumacher cannot draw the right line is on track," former teammate Martin Brundle wrote in the Sunday Times newspaper.

"He cannot see when he crosses the line between tough but fair, and ruthless but foul. That is exacerbated by his total belief that he cannot be wrong.

"He has a default mode in the car: if you're going to pass him, he will drive you off the road," added Brundle. "He even did it to me as a teammate."

The final farewell will come in Brazil next month, after Schumacher announced in the wake of Sunday's victory in the Italian Grand Prix that he would quit at the end of the season.

Schumacher will not be forgotten, not by his enemies and certainly not by the Ferrari faithful thronging the historic Monza circuit for his European farewell.

He will appreciate more time with his young family, whom he has shielded from the public gaze.

Schumacher, who often came across as arrogant and brash in his early days, has shunned the fame and hero worship that go with the territory.

"I don't want it, I have a problem with it, just as I do with the hysteria surrounding my person," Schumacher once said, professing little interest in the many records he has accumulated and the Formula One history he has made.

"Obviously I appreciate what people think of my achievements and how it lifts them, but I don't see myself as a hero.

"I am just like everyone else, I just happen to be able to drive fast."

The German has been a winner like no other.

The bare facts are incontestable: a record 90 victories after Sunday's triumph at Monza, five successive titles for Ferrari and more points, pole positions and podiums than anyone else in history.

Renault's world champion Fernando Alonso is one who doubts that anyone will ever get close to beating Schumacher's number of victories.

"I think you need to be extremely lucky, with the right team always," he said. "When you are in the wrong car at the wrong moment, you can't do anything."

Schumacher has excelled at being in the right place at the right time, and almost always in the best car. He has also been the architect of his own success by building a strong team around him.

The son of a bricklayer, who now owns a go-kart circuit in Kerpen near Cologne, Schumacher was born in Huerth-Hermuelheim on Jan. 3, 1969.

The man who would go on to become Germany's first and so far only Formula One world champion started karting at the age of four in a machine built by father Rolf and powered by a lawnmower engine.

He made his debut in a Jordan at Spa in 1991 after that team's Belgian driver Bertrand Gachot was imprisoned for assaulting a London cab driver with CS gas.

Schumacher's manager Willie Weber convinced Eddie Jordan that the young German, little known outside the Mercedes sportscar team, knew the famed circuit well. In fact, he had merely been around it on a bicycle.

The former garage mechanic was an instant hit, snapped up immediately afterwards by Flavio Briatore's Benetton and taking his first win at Spa in 1992.

That was followed by a first championship with Benetton in 1994 after Brazilian Senna was killed at Imola.

Senna's death robbed Formula One of an enthralling battle, the young pretender against the triple champion. Only later, with the emergence of Alonso as Formula One's youngest champion in 2005 and Kimi Raikkonen winning with McLaren, did that generational showdown emerge.

Instead it was with Hill, stepping into the breach at Williams after Senna's death, and McLaren's Mika Hakkinen that Schumacher fought the duels that lit up the championship in the mid-1990s.

After the infamous collision with Hill, and a second title in 1995, Schumacher left for Ferrari to seal his fame and establish a new era for the glamour team.

Hill won in 1996, and then came the debacle of 1997: "If there is anything in my career that I could undo, it would be that episode," he said later.

In 2000 he secured Ferrari's first driver's title in 21 years and the pressure came off with four more in a row.

Few would rule out an eighth crown before he goes.

The full statement from Ferrari
Previous article

The full statement from Ferrari

Next article

Schumacher: a very difficult decision

Schumacher: a very difficult decision
Load comments
Why Norris doesn’t expect Mr Nice Guy praise for much longer Plus

Why Norris doesn’t expect Mr Nice Guy praise for much longer

Earning praise from rivals has been a welcome sign that Lando Norris is becoming established among Formula 1's elite. But the McLaren driver is confident that his team's upward curve can put him in the mix to contend for titles in the future, when he's hoping the compliments will be replaced by being deemed an equal adversary

What Ferrari still needs to improve to return to F1 title contention Plus

What Ferrari still needs to improve to return to F1 title contention

After a disastrous 2020 in which it slumped to sixth in the F1 constructors' standings, Ferrari has rebounded strongly and is on course to finish third - despite regulations that forced it to carryover much of its forgettable SF1000 machine. Yet while it can be pleased with its improvement, there are still steps it must make if 2022 is to yield a return to winning ways

How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations Plus

How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations

OPINION: The pressure is firmly on Red Bull and Mercedes as Formula 1 2021 embarks on its final double-header. How the respective teams deal with that will be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome of the drivers' and constructors' championships, as Autosport's technical consultant and ex-McLaren F1 engineer explains

Formula 1
Dec 1, 2021
Why Ferrari is sure its long-term Leclerc investment will be vindicated Plus

Why Ferrari is sure its long-term Leclerc investment will be vindicated

Humble yet blisteringly quick, Charles Leclerc is the driver Ferrari sees as its next
 world champion, and a rightful heir to the greats of Ferrari’s past – even though, by the team’s own admission, he’s not the finished article yet. Here's why it is confident that the 24-year-old can be the man to end a drought stretching back to 2008

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2021
The downside to F1's show and tell proposal Plus

The downside to F1's show and tell proposal

Technology lies at the heart of the F1 story and it fascinates fans, which is why the commercial rights holder plans to compel teams to show more of their ‘secrets’. STUART CODLING fears this will encourage techno-quackery…

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2021
How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits Plus

How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells STUART CODLING about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Plus

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at
 Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as BEN ANDERSON discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren  Plus

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren 

From being lapped by his own team-mate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021