Last month – and while we were away – Michael Schumacher turned 50.
The most successful F1 driver in history: 308 races, 91 wins, 65 pole positions, a career spanning over 20 years and 7 world championships.
He set a lasting impression back in late August 1991 at the Belgian Grand Prix. When the World Wide Web was barely born, Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do was in it’s second of four months domination of the UK single charts and I was a few weeks shy of being 4 months old.
He outclassed his more experienced teammate, Andrea De Cesaris, in qualifying but retired with clutch failure in the first 500 metres of the race. However he was destined for making motorsport history.
Beginning as a fierce rival to three time champion Ayrton Senna until his tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Then began his journey to winning seven world titles: two with Benetton in 1994 and 1995; and five successive championships between 2000 and 2004 with Ferrari. Turning a team, at that point, from being a disappointment to a supreme competitive force.
After the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix he retired to take on motorbikes, nearly returned to replace then injured Felipe Massa in 2009 and finally made his return with Mercedes in 2010.
His "second career", while it showed flashes of the old Michael, was a disappointment, retired after the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix and replaced by Lewis Hamilton for 2013.
Tragically, the skiing accident in December 2013 brought everything to a sudden halt. I remember being in an Edinburgh pub when I saw the shocking newsflash.
I don’t have role models – I don’t generally believe in that concept since we all should aspire the best version of ourselves – but Michael was certainly a childhood hero of mine.
I’ve been watching F1 for much of my life – one of my earliest memories was watching practice for the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix on Eurosport.
As a young kid, watching Michael devastating his opposition for many races was awesome. Especially when wet weather was involved – he outclassed everyone. Reinenmeister was a perfect name for him. Just search "1996 Spanish Grand Prix" on YouTube to see what I mean.
Listening to the German and Italian national anthems during the podium ceremony in his Ferrari days became a regular highlight.
Of course there were things I didn’t agree with him on. Trying to drive into his rivals at the 1994 and 1997 championship deciders, deliberating stopping the car during the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying, and squeezing his former teammate towards the pitwall during the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix.
For me it demonstrates that he’s like everyone else on this planet…flawed. His weakness was not knowing where the line was between fiercely competitive and unsporting behaviour.
This could also arguably be a weakness of Ayrton Senna but that’s another debate for another time.
On the flipside however, he was a childhood hero of mine because of his determined nature and commitment to achieving his goals. On a pure racing level, his ability to have the aggression and ruthlessness of Senna with the methodical intelligence of 4 time world champion Alain Prost was a killer combination.
Another reason, he is private and values the loved ones around him. Something that is becoming a rarer trait in this social media saturated world.
One important thing that Michael teaches us, especially after his skiing accident and I learnt this as I got older.
We are not invincible. We are not immortal. Just look at Senna and Jim Clark as prime examples.
We have to make the most of life. To create the moments, memories and experiences we can look back on our final days.
Michael also taught me that no matter what the situation throws at you. You can come back and triumph.
His many races starting from the back of the grid and scaling the ladder to victory were prime examples. As well as winning and scoring points in underperforming cars.
While I doubt he will fully recover from his skiing accident, his progress to date shows he does not give up without a fight.
Keep fighting Michael.