5 Ways Michael Schumacher Changed Formula 1
Michael Schumacher made his Formula One debut way back at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix.
One year later, he was a race winner. Three years later, he was world champion.
He made a greater impact on the sport over the next two decades than any driver in F1 history. Records were broken, "team orders" became two very dirty words, and Ferrari once more were the team to beat.
They even changed the rules to slow him down.
Even in retirement, Schumacher's influence is still very visible up and down the pit lane.
Made Ferrari Great Again
Back in 1995, once-mighty Ferrari was languishing among the also-rans. Williams, McLaren and Benetton have been running the show since the Scuderia's last Constructors' Championship win back in 1983, and the Italians hadn't won a drivers' title since 1979.
The acquisition of Michael Schumacher—already acknowledged as the best driver of the day—for 1996 proved the catalyst for their revival.
Schumacher produced some magnificent displays in the mediocre F310 to secure third place in the standings in his debut year. The car was a million miles away from the all-conquering Williams FW18, but notice had been served. Ferrari were back, and would only be getting better.
It wasn't all plain sailing: Schumacher was disqualified in 1997 for his clash with Jacques Villeneuve, and in 1999, a broken leg cost him any chance of the title.
But then everything fell into place. Ferrari won 57 of the 85 races between 2000 and 2004 as Schumacher claimed five consecutive titles. It was the longest spell of single-team dominance in F1 history.
Schumacher came close again in 2006 before calling it a day and retiring for the first time.
In the years since, Ferrari have only produced title-challenging cars on four occasions. The rise of Red Bull has coincided with another dip in form for F1's elder statesman.
But Ferrari are once more the team everyone wants to drive for. They go into every season as potential challengers.
And whenthey don't produce a great car, it's considered unusual.
Before Schumacher, it was considered normal.
Unintentionally Helped Usher in the Gimmick Era
The dominance of Schumacher and Ferrari was a headache for the people who run F1.
Fans were switching off in droves as every race turned into a red-led procession. For every viewer who tuned in to admire the brilliance on display, there were five who sat rolling their eyes, desperate for some decent competition.
F1 bosses had tinkered with the rules before, but now they started to get creative in a bid to scupper Schumacher's dominance and improve the spectacle.
The 2003 season saw the real start of the gimmick era. The format of qualifying was changed to allow drivers just one flying lap apiece, on race fuel.
The main purpose of this move was to put drivers out of position on the grid to create drama on Sundays.
Additionally, only one type of wet tyre—full wet or intermediate—was allowed if it rained (which was rather silly), and the points system was changed to reduce the gap between first and second to just two points.
In the seasons that followed, qualifying was changed again (and changed back) and tyre changes were banned (then unbanned).
Requiring drivers to use both tyre compounds came next, and, a few years later, it was the turn of overtaking aid KERS.
In recent years, we've seen the arrival of tyres deliberately engineered to fall apart quickly, and the greatest gimmick of them all—DRS.
Would these things have happened anyway? Maybe. But it was the Ferrari/Schumacher era, and the desire to stop it happening again, which truly opened F1's eyes to the idea of switching things around and using gimmicky ideas to artificially engineer drama.
Changed the Way Drivers Approach Fitness
Twenty years ago, it was common after the more challenging races to see a driver emerge from his cockpit, dripping with sweat and looking exhausted.
Beside him, in parc ferme, a young German chap would hop effortlessly out of his car and remove his helmet, looking like he'd spent the last two hours asleep in bed.
Driving an F1 car is much harder than a casual observer might think, as Formula1.com explains. G-forces created in braking, accelerating and cornering take a heavy toll on the drivers, who also have to contend with high temperatures and the constant need to stay alert and focused.
In the early 1990s, fitness training was already part of a driver's life, but few took it to the extreme. Becoming tired and operating at 90 percent towards the end of a race was OK, because everyone was in the same boat.
Then along came Schumacher.
Here was a driver who simply did not get tired. His performance didn't drop off as the race went on. The Terminator had arrived in F1, and it would not stop, ever, until it was leading.
Faced with a supremely talented opponent who could drive a whole race at qualifying intensity, his rivals had no choice but to adapt.
Drivers today have fitness levels equal to professional football, tennis and basketball players. Teams employ armies of personal trainers and nutritionists, and even the "offseason" is structured around a punishing regime of strength and endurance training.
Largely thanks to one man.
Made "Team Orders" Dirty Words
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Team orders are as old as F1 itself. Back in the 1950s, it was fairly normal for a driver to pull into the pits and hand his car over to his teammate, if the lead driver's machine failed.
On the positive side, the unseated driver would share the credit and points if his replacement won. Luigi Fagioli retired with a single win to his name, only because teammate Juan Manuel Fangio took over his car and won the 1951 French Grand Prix.
Even as recently as the mid-90s, team orders were considered an acceptable part of what is very much a team sport.
But in recent years, they've become a thorny issue, and the debate truly caught fire because of Ferrari and Schumacher.
Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello were not hired to win titles. Their role was to score points for the team and, when necessary, provide assistance to Schumacher by getting in his rivals' way and moving aside for the team leader when asked.
Some fans thought this situation was less than ideal, and the more Ferrari used team orders to influence race results, the louder the protests became.
The straw that broke the prancing horse's back was the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Schumacher had a huge 21-point lead after just five races (10-6-4-3-2-1 points system), and lying in second—behind Barrichello—he was on track to extend it further.
But Ferrari decided that wasn't enough, and if Schumacher disagreed, he didn't do it loudly enough. Barrichello was ordered to hand the race win to his teammate—just as he'd handed over second place at the same event the previous year.
Rightly furious, Rubens spent eight laps arguing with Ferrari management before relenting. He slowed to let Schumacher through, barely 100 metres from the finish line, making it blindingly obvious what had happened.
The outcry from fans and the media was unprecedented, and, at the end of the season, team orders—which would influence the result of a race—were banned.
The ban was lifted in 2011 after it was deemed unworkable, but team orders remain as unpopular and contentious as ever.
Re-Wrote the Record Books
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One day, there will be no one left to tell stories of what Schumacher was capable of doing behind the wheel.
But his legacy will live on in the history books. Here are just a few of the records Michael holds.
|Most championships||7||5 (Juan Manuel Fangio)|
|Most wins||91||51 (Alain Prost)|
|Most poles||68||65 (Ayrton Senna)|
|Most fastest laps||77||41 (Alain Prost)|
|Most podiums||155||106 (Alain Prost)|
|Most points finishes||221||160 (Fernando Alonso)|
|Most laps led||5,111||2,931 (Ayrton Senna)|
Most hat tricks
(pole, fastest lap and win)
|22||11 (Jim Clark)|
|Most podiums in a season||17 from 17||17 from 19 (Sebastian Vettel)|
|Most consecutive podiums||19||15 (Fernando Alonso)|
Some, perhaps all, will fall sooner or later. Cars are ever more reliable, drivers start ever younger and seasons now contain more races than ever.
But will any driver change the face of F1 quite as much as Schumacher did?