We pause to reflect on the legacy of Michael Schumacher
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!