THE RESIGNED SLUMP OF THEIR SHOULDERS SAID IT ALL.
The way a driver had to apply himself to racing in Formula 1 had changed forever – and they knew it. The podium at the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix heralded the revolution.
Nigel Mansell, then 39, and his Williams team-mate Riccardo Patrese, 38, looked weary. Standing between them was a sprightly, ebullient Michael Schumacher, 15 years their junior, who had just taken his first grand prix victory to establish himself as the new heir to the Formula 1 throne. Barely a bead of sweat stood out on the brow of this young German as he leapt from the top step.
Schumacher’s Benetton teammate Martin Brundle recognised immediately his game-changing impact: “Michael moved the game forward,” he recalls. “We had to raise ourselves. We had to get fitter and stronger and we had to look for every hundredth of a second. It was clear he was going to be a star of the future.”
Fast forward 14 years, by which point Schumacher had accrued seven world championships, 91 wins and 68 poles to become, statistically, the most successful driver of all time. He never planned it this way, but his achievements were already having an effect on racing youngsters in their formative years. These Schumi Wannabes, some of whom have since made it on to the current F1 grid, watched their hero and, regardless of his sometimes questionable racing ethics, sought to emulate his success.
Some, like Sebastian Vettel, who hero-worships Michael to this day, studied every nuance of his behaviour: the work ethic, the attitude, the passion, the close relationships Michael nurtured within his team, the way he conducted himself – and his on-track ruthlessness.
Schumacher set new standards in F1, and a generation of racers knew that to even approach his records, they would have to understand how he changed the rules of the game. For after Spa
’92, the sport would never be the same again.
Riccardo Patrese (above left) looks drained on the podium at Spa in ’92. Yet Michael (top) is filled with energy
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