We pause to re­flect on the legacy of Michael Schu­macher

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What is Michael Schu­macher’s For­mula 1 legacy? It’s a ques­tion with no sin­gle, sim­ple re­sponse, yet it’s one that de­serves to be asked as we watch and wait for his con­tin­ued re­cov­ery.

In an at­tempt to pro­vide an an­swer, we’ve gath­ered a stel­lar en­sem­ble of voices in this is­sue to con­trib­ute their unique per­spec­tives on a cham­pion who, while of­ten the cat­a­lyst for on-track con­tro­versy, nonethe­less came to de­fine an era in grand prix rac­ing.

For Pat Sy­monds (see p40), who worked as Schu­macher’s race en­gi­neer through­out Michael’s first ti­tle cam­paign in 1994, he’s a driver who showed in­cred­i­ble team com­mit­ment and lead­er­ship in pur­suit of a sin­gu­lar goal, while also be­ing able to kick back with a beer and re­lax in the company of those he trusted.

FIA pres­i­dent Jean Todt mean­while, in­ter­viewed over lunch by Mau­rice Hamil­ton (p60), re­calls a driver who was es­sen­tial in re­turn­ing Fer­rari to ti­tle-win­ning form from 1996 to 2006. To this day, Todt re­mem­bers Schu­macher’s vic­tory at the 2000 Ja­panese GP, when he clinched Fer­rari’s first driv­ers’ ti­tle since 1979, as the most emo­tional mo­ment of his vivid mo­tor­sport ca­reer.

Our own Peter Wind­sor con­sid­ers Schu­macher in the con­text of other great fig­ures who have been lost from the sport; his re­mark­able and mov­ing es­say on F1’s in­abil­ity to re­flect on loss, ab­sence and the de­par­ture of he­roes should give us all pause for thought (see p56). Then comes Mika Häkki­nen, cham­pion in 1998 and 1999 and the only driver Schu­macher ever con­sid­ered a wor­thy ad­ver­sary. Re­call­ing a sport­ing ri­valry as in­tense as any F1 has ever of­fered, Mika re­flects on a com­peti­tor who set the stan­dard by which his peers al­ways knew they would be judged (p68). “There were many great rac­ing driv­ers and it was great to learn from them,” Mika tells us. “But all the time in my think­ing, there was Michael. He was al­ways the man to catch.”

What unites each piece is a common recog­ni­tion of the force of Michael Schu­macher’s per­son­al­ity; of his un­com­pro­mis­ing com­mit­ment to suc­cess. And per­haps it is this that For­mula 1 misses more than any­thing, through Schu­macher’s con­tin­ued ab­sence – the knowl­edge that in the form of Schumi, some­thing ap­proach­ing the ul­ti­mate com­peti­tor was em­bod­ied.

The clos­est Michael has to a spir­i­tual F1 suc­ces­sor is Fer­nando Alonso, the man who went Miche­lin-to-Bridge­stone with him for the 2006 ti­tle and won. The com­peti­tor ac­corded the most re­spect by his peers, Alonso faces an un­ortho­dox chal­lenge in this month’s is­sue: a grilling by pad­dock lu­mi­nar­ies. It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise to learn that he rose with aplomb to the oc­ca­sion, and you can en­joy the full in­ter­view on p28.

A last word, then, for Rus­sia. Next month, F1 makes a first foray to Sochi… but we’ve been there al­ready. Read our re­port on p78. Za vashe zdorovie!

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