By J.R Whitton
Many people have sports heroes or icons that mean everything to them, whether it be in football, hockey, basketball, baseball, racing, boxing etc. My sports hero/icon was and is Michael Schumacher. I have a summary of why he was so incredible to me and to thousands of other F1 fans around the world.
To me he came along during the time in a kid’s life that sports heroes mean the world to them and as I grew up this unfolded rather spectacularly.
As a youth, Schumacher became interested in go-kart racing, an enthusiasm that was supported by his father’s management of a go-kart track. In 1984 and 1985 he won the German junior karting championship, and in 1987 he captured the German and European karting titles. The next year, at age 19, he was promoted up Formula Three (F3) with his sights already set on the prestigious Formula one seat. Two years later, in 1990, he won the German F3 championship. Enter a young JR (me) here.
At the tender age of 9, living in a strong-willed family it’s safe to say there wasn’t many things my father and I agreed on but the one thing that brought us together was our love for motorsports and so F1 took priority in our household. To understand our passion, you first have to know where it stemmed from. My family are exceptionally proud of our heritage, we support and celebrate it in everything we do. Although I was brought up in America, my family ensured we all knew our German and UK background, with the German ties being the strongest and so the predominant teams in our house regarding F1 were Team Ferrari – because of Schumacher- and Team William’s. This was an incredible time to watch F1 with Mansell, Senna and Piquet going at one another. Mansell going from Williams to Ferrari back to Williams and the close on-track battles, it was amazing. This is when the driver we had all been watching finally got that seat in F1.
It’s the season of ’91, Schumacher moved up to F1 competition as a driver for the Jordan team. The following season he made the move to drive for Benetton, this clearly being the right fit as he won the drivers’ world championship for that team in 1994 and 1995. Before the start of the 1996 season Schumacher moved teams again, this time to Team Ferrari and my house took on a very red tone, he finished third in the championship standings. Nothing was going to stop him from becoming the best, not even suffering a broken leg from a crash in 99 was going to slow him down. His strength and determination only made us celebrate him more as we watched him rebound back to win his third championship just one year later. Not only was that a massive achievement for Schumacher personally but it was Ferrari’s first drivers’ title in 21 years, their last one being the 1979 season.
The 2000 season win was the first in a string of five consecutive world championships (2000–04), and his grand total of seven F1 titles broke Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of five that had stood for nearly 50 years prior. In 2005 and 2006 he finished in third and second place in the F1 standings, respectively. By this time, I was turning 25, with F1 still being a huge part of mine and my families life. I had followed Schumacher the entire time as he dominated Formula One as well as all the ins and out’s that came with that. During this time in my life, I was overseas and so my connection with my family was now my only insight into the sport I loved. I spoke to my dad and uncle as often as possible to keep up with all the news and what Schumacher was doing. I was shocked to learn that even after adding another amazing season to an already incredible career, the news that Schumi had decided that he was done, broke (Well, at least for now). Schumacher retired at the end of the 2006 campaign to serve as a test driver and adviser for Ferrari. At the time of his retirement, he had 91 F1 Grand Prix race victories, shattering the previous record of 51, held by French driver Alain Prost.
In December 2009, I was back home, stateside when I heard the best news any fan of his could hear, Schumacher was returning. Over the moon does not even come close to the glee I felt at this news. An announcement was made stating, he would return to F1 for the 2010 season as a driver for Mercedes. For the next 3 years, I supported my driver, I screamed at the telly and prayed to the racing gods at each race, but nothing helped. Having never won a race or even finished higher than eighth in the overall F1 standings during his comeback, my heart sunk as the news broke, Schumacher was heading back into retirement.
While Schumacher experienced unprecedented success on the track, he was also—through a combination of winner’s purses and endorsements—one of the best-paid athletes in the history of sport. With an estimated annual income at $100 million during the peak of his career. Schumacher was also known for his charitable efforts. He was named special ambassador for UNESCO in 2002 and made headlines for his $10 million donation to the relief effort for the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 to name a few. Much like his first retirement, his name did not just disappear from the paddock. Although this time round when his name hit the headlines in December of 2013, it wasn’t because of another comeback or a charitable action. It was news no fan ever wanted to hear. There had been an accident during a skiing trip in France. Despite wearing all the correct safety gear, Schumacher had sustained a significant brain injury and was placed in a medically induced coma until the following June. Sadly, to this day Schumacher has made very little progress with his recovery, with his family keeping a very tight lid on his status. Although it has been confirmed that Michael is aware of his son, Mick Schumacher’s, successful career in motorsports and has acknowledged the fact that Mick has now graduated to the prestigious Formula One racing format, not much else is known.
Why am I telling you this, because to me Michael Schumacher was the epitome of a driving champion. Yes, I’m biased, of course, He’s German, he moved through the ranks of motorsports, nothing was handed to him, and he had constant competition from the
likes of Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill, David Coulthard and others. To me he is an icon and a hero. Occasionally, someone comes along who is extremely talented, seemingly capable of doing the impossible and makes you stare in awe, gasp, and shake your head in astonishment. That was Michael Schumacher. He seemed to do the impossible and do it very well, he shattered track records, set fastest laps, and had parts of tracks named for him. His accomplishments off track were as memorable and profound as they were on track. Schumacher will live on to many fans as one of the best, if not the best F1 driver of all time. To me Schumacher is and remains the GOAT. Now Vettel and Rosberg came along and had wonderful achievements and victories but nothing like Schumi. When I heard that Netflix are doing a brand-new documentary on the life and times of Michael Schumacher, I was ecstatic. It’s rumoured to be the most in-depth documentary on Michael to date, with testimonials from former and current F1 drivers, F1 commentators, family, and friends.
To someone like me Formula One is not just a sport with cars going about, it’s a lifestyle. From all the F1 clothing and memorabilia, to being a part of two incredible social media F1 fan pages that bring with it an entire community of likeminded people and that’s without even considering the gaming world you are opened up to. For my family, it’s not just a hobby or a past time, it brought us together for over 30 years and for me, Michael Schumacher was the foundation that supported the love and passion that to this day, I still have for Formula 1.