Schuperman return: Our wake up call to F1s living legend
'I am a crazy guy, I do many crazy things.'
These words keep coming back to me, playing in my head over and over again. It was on a sunny day in 2011 that Michael Schumacher was sitting before me for what to me was, and always will be, the interview of a lifetime. The seven-time Formula 1 world champion was in the second year of his comeback, a year that fortunately enough for Formula 1 fans like myself, saw an Indian Grand Prix make it to the calendar. He sat before me answering question after question, of how he broke into Formula 1, his relationship with Ayrton Senna, why he hung up his helmet when he did, his big decision to come back to racing and what he'd done in his time away from Formula 1. And it was in reference to this time away from F1 that Schumacher laughingly described himself to me as a 'crazy guy', admitting to his love of adventure and life itself.
As much of a Schumacher fan I'd been growing up, there was still a little bit of a preconceived notion I had of the German - preconceived notions that quickly shattered once he started speaking. He spoke with what seemed to be frank clarity and complete honesty. There was not a trace of PR spiel in what he said. What of that famed Schumacher arrogance people so often spoke of? Well, as I discovered during the course of that interview, it wasn't there. The man sitting before me was tremendously self assured. As self assured one would expect a seven-time Formula 1 world champion to be. He seemed above petty emotions. And if one may be so bold as to use so simple a word, he was plain 'nice'.
Behind the success that came to Schumacher and Ferrari was tremendous hard work and a fighting spirit that was typical to the German driver spirit we hope will see him through again
Three years have gone by since that day. And in that time Schumacher only managed to meet with moderate success when it came to his fabled return to Formula 1 with Mercedes GP. He hung up his helmet for a second time at the end of the 2012 season, was replaced by Lewis Hamilton at the Silver Arrows, and set about living a life away from the racetrack. A private life that he has always guarded fiercely. Over the course of 2013, very little was heard of Michael Schumacher and his doings. Many would have prefered to keep it that way.
Then, on the 29th of December, 2013, suddenly the news started filtering through. Schumacher had been skiing off-piste in the French Alps when he had a fall and hit his head on a rock. The German was attended to by paramedics and then airlifted to a hospital in Grenoble where emergency surgery was carried out on him. The seriousness of the injury was evident from the way a press conference was called for the next day. The doctors were tight-lipped. They maintained that Schumacher was critical, but stable, and being maintained in an induced coma. He had contusions on both hemispheres of the brain. It was a grave matter. The doctors refused to give the world a timeline of how and when he would recover, or whether he would recover at all. A further surgery was conducted, the change in his condition was minutely positive. As we write this, his doctors say recovery is unlikely. And if he does, he won't be the same.
On the 3rd of January, 2014, Michael Schumacher turned 45. Instead of a more typical Schumacher family celebration, where one would imagine he'd be the life of the party, this time things were subdued in the hospital in Grenoble. With him was his wife Corrina, children Mick and Gina Maria, brother Ralf Schumacher, and several other friends and well-wishers. Outside the hospital thousands of fans were keeping vigil, praying for the sporting hero.
Schumacher clean, mean and special
|SCHUMI CLEAN||SCHUMI MEAN|
|Belgian GP, 1991 How did Michael Schumacher end up in Formula 1? Well, Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot got thrown in jail for spraying tear gas in the eyes of a London cabbie. Willi Weber, Schumacher's manager, convinced Eddie Jordan that his driver knew the Spa track like the back of his hand and would be the perfect replacement. The truth was Schumacher had never driven at Spa before and only managed a quick spin around the track on his bicycle. Then he went out in the Jordan during qualifying and put the car seventh on the grid. The rest, as they say, is history.||Australian GP, 1994 The circumstances under which Schumacher won his first world championship title were far from perfect and set the trend of the ruthless streak his career was to follow. Schuey had led the first 36 laps of the race before going off track and grazing his car against the wall at the East Terrace corner. His car was damaged and he pulled across the track to block Damon Hill from passing him, colliding with the Williams driver. Both retired from the race, but Schumi's first title was in the bag.|
|Spanish GP, 1994 How do you drive 40 laps of a highly competitive race when your car is stuck in gear? And how do you do it in such a way that you still manage to make it to the podium? Well, Michael Schumacher managed somehow! With the Benetton stuck in fifth gear, Schumi made his way around the track not giving up and pushing the car to second place. It was quite a drive!||European GP, 1997 Jerez - a word that has dogged Schumacher his entire career. At Curva Dry Sac, Schumacher moved right into the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve, in order to prevent the latter from getting past him. Schumacher damaged his car badly enough to retire from the race. Not so for Villeneuve, who finished the race third and took the championship. Schumacher was stripped of all his points for the year. A first and only time it has happened in F1.|
|Spa, 1995 The regenmeister is born. Schumacher qualified 16th on the grid and made his way rather aggressively to the front of the order. Then came the rain. Schumacher found himself having to defend Damon Hill's attacks even while his Benetton was still on dry weather tyres. He won the race and established his supreme skills of driving in the wet.||Monaco GP, 2006 Rascassegate became a topic of heated debate. It was the year Schumacher was trying desperately to wrest his title back from the young upstart, Fernando Alonso. In order to win at Monaco he would have to outqualify the Renault driver, something that looked increasingly unlikely. And so Schumacher parked his car at Rascasse corner, scuppering Alonso's attempt to improve his qualifying time. He was punished and sent to the back of the grid for the misdemeanour.|
|Japanese GP, 2000 That hallowed first title for Ferrari. Even though Schumacher had outqualified Mika Hakkinen, he fell behind his title rival at the start of the race. Hakkinen was flying and Schumi set after him like a man possessed, matching him lap for lap, and getting past him with a series of flying laps put in when the Finn pitted. He won the race and also took his first title for Ferrari.||Hungarian GP, 2010 It was a ruthless move to pull, especially on your former team-mate. More than that, it was a ruthless move to pull for 10th position. But then again, Ayrton Senna once said 'If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.' The argument most people had was that there was no gap there. Schumacher pulled alongside Rubens Barrichello and squeezed the Williams driver very nearly into the pitwall. A ten-place grid penalty for that one!|
|SCHUMI CLEAN||SCHUMI SPECIAL|
|Belgian GP, 1991 How did Michael Schumacher end up in Formula 1? Well, Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot got thrown in jail for spraying tear gas in the eyes of a London cabbie. Willi Weber, Schumacher's manager, convinced Eddie Jordan that his driver knew the Spa track like the back of his hand and would be the perfect replacement. The truth was Schumacher had never driven at Spa before and only managed a quick spin around the track on his bicycle. Then he went out in the Jordan during qualifying and put the car seventh on the grid. The rest, as they say, is history.||Belgian GP, 1998 The sight of that scarlet Ferrari. On three wheels. In the rain. That's quite something, especially because even on three wheels Schumi managed to keep behind him David Coulthard in a McLaren. To clear the air the McLaren had all four wheels. What happened was that Schumacher was attempting to get past Coulthard, but there was contact when he did so, given that Coulthard stayed on the racing line while slowing down to let the German by. Even with three wheels though, there was no way for the McLaren driver to keep up. Insane.|
|Spanish GP, 1994 How do you drive 40 laps of a highly competitive race when your car is stuck in gear? And how do you do it in such a way that you still manage to make it to the podium? Well, Michael Schumacher managed somehow! With the Benetton stuck in fifth gear, Schumi made his way around the track not giving up and pushing the car to second place. It was quite a drive!||Italian GP, 2000 Few can forget the way Michael Schumacher broke down at the post race press conference at Monza. It had been an emotional victory in front of the doting tifosi, and Schumacher had managed to rack up his 41st win. What made it so special was that he had managed to equal Senna's total number of F1 wins. When asked how it felt, the German simply wept.|
|Spa, 1995 The regenmeister is born. Schumacher qualified 16th on the grid and made his way rather aggressively to the front of the order. Then came the rain. Schumacher found himself having to defend Damon Hill's attacks even while his Benetton was still on dry weather tyres. He won the race and established his supreme skills of driving in the wet.||Brazilian GP, 2006 The last race before his first retirement certainly wasn't easy for Schumacher. But it was a race that was typical of Schumi's grit and determination. A punctured tyre put him a lap down on the race leaders, but the German fought hard and climbed up the order, finishing just off the podium in fourth. On the 70th lap of the race he even managed to set a new lap record at Interlagos. Stellar stuff.|
|Japanese GP, 2000 That hallowed first title for Ferrari. Even though Schumacher had outqualified Mika Hakkinen, he fell behind his title rival at the start of the race. Hakkinen was flying and Schumi set after him like a man possessed, matching him lap for lap, and getting past him with a series of flying laps put in when the Finn pitted. He won the race and also took his first title for Ferrari.||Monaco GP, 2012 It was a sight few can forget. Schumacher stepping out of his Mercedes, scratching his head, sticking his tongue out and laughing in disbelief. He had taken his first pole in his racing comeback. And he had managed to do it at Monaco - the track that everybody wants to win at. Unfortunately for Schuey, he was handed a penalty that dropped him down five places. That didn't deter him one bit. "I told you guys already in the press conference, my situation is going to be pole, start the race in sixth and I'm going to win it. That's what I'm here for and what I'm going to aim for. That's all I have in my mind and the past doesn't matter at all."|
Over the course of his career in Formula 1, Schumacher broke several records. He claimed a total of seven Formula 1 world championship titles, took 91 victories, 68 pole positions and managed several more records along the way. The statistics tell only part of the story. Schumacher's legendary status as a driver stems not only from his raw skill as a racecar driver but also his ability to foresee and prepare for any sort of racing situation, his complete dedication to the sport itself, whether in terms of fitness or practice and testing, and his conviction and belief that he was always right. Ask any Formula 1 fan, Michael Schumacher fan or not, and they'll tell you that there are three types of Schumacher moments - clean, mean and special (see box). And these moments were impossible to ignore, all contributing in some way to the legend of the man himself.
Back in 2011, just before that interview got over, I had the opportunity to have my own very special Schumacher moment. It was while he was signing an autograph for me that I told him that Sebastian Vettel and I were born the same year, and that Vettel wasn't the only one he inspired. He paused for a minute, looked up and said "You say I inspire you?" "Yes," I replied. And then the man who influenced nearly every major decision I made in life looked at me and said "Then I hope you're happy with the job that you're doing." I certainly was and I told him as much before making a quip about how there was always room for growth and if his manager Sabine Kehm ever needed an assistant, they'd know whom to call. He laughed out loud and went back to signing the autograph. Before he left the table though, he shook my hand and said, "Keep it up." Kinder words I haven't heard ever before. It was only after he left the table that I saw what he'd written on the magazine I'd asked him to sign. It said "To Vaishali, Keep it up!!! and enjoy" Scrawled beneath the words was his signature, with the date and a smiley face. He'd never struck me as the sort to draw smiley faces. But since then I've tried very hard to live by those words.
"There are still many years for living my private life after," was another thing he'd said to me of his decision to return to Formula 1. Now's the time for you to live by those words of yours, Schumi, and live your private life for many years to come. So wake up please.