The heart of a champion: Michael Schumacher. Why he will always matter to F1 and beyond?

He turns 48 today, the date being January 3, 2017. He’s not able to walk. It’s been 3 long years where he has been rendered immobile, following a freak ski mishap in 2013. This isn’t the first time that he has been injured and is convalescing. But never before his fall-out at the famous French Alps has he been tried and tested so critically by an injury.

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So much so, that a series of endlessly passionate, almost teary-eyed hash-tags on social-media stating ‘keep fighting Michael’ have emanated almost everywhere in the internet stratosphere in support and solidarity for one of the greatest sporting icons of modern world.  Understanding that the German is convalescing, in a bid to see him stand back to where he belongs: amidst glaring limelight, a place that has become his second home, the movement has caught the attention of the world.

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In the world of Formula One Racing, no other driver save Brazilian great Ayrton Senna has commanded such massive fan-following and dominated discussions for sheer daredevilry quite like Michael Schumacher.

But who really is Michael Schumacher? 

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Volatile, passionate and a bit of a warrior on top of being a merciless parader on the racing tarmac! Statistically, the greatest, figuratively, a bold icon of speed and, remarkably, the constant shadow on any F1 driver- whether a have-been, contemporary or future star- with which his talent is judged on merit and capability. But you’ve got to ask a few questions: Is he just the guy who was good in a four-wheeler, super-quick Formula One car? Is he just the guy responsible for some of the greatest statistical accomplishments in the pinnacle of Motor-Sport world? Or is he no more than a guy who has helmed polarised views like no other champion in the lair of F1, as a timeless giant?

Schumacher is all this and more

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Once a 6 year old who first won his major junior karting national challenge in the outskirts of Koln (Cologne) to becoming the audaciously quick and breathtakingly brave driver who in his maiden 1991 F1 emerged with valuable points and, by the time his second season was done, surprised the entire F1 galaxy, has walked a long mile. In his debut race, he qualified 7th and by 1992 season end, Schumi was already on P3 in a Benetton that wasn’t perceived to be the greatest car around.

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Most will unfailingly label him as the most staggering achiever in the history of motor-sport. While that is nowhere wrong and perhaps the most complete view of underlining the German’s legend, that isn’t all. The fact that Schumacher earned 7 World Championships, the most in the history of motor-sport, a competition that is well beyond 60 straight seasons, is reason enough to be over-awed by his legend. And that’s where we realise his magic!

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The fact that the man, well beyond his peak is still regarded and fondly celebrated as a champion lends itself to a charisma, previously unseen and hitherto experienced in the annals of the sport. It could be because Schumi’s feats inspire lives world-wide. But that’s truth half-served. It has also got to do with the fact that few champions have lent to the fabric of motor-sport such credibility and fibre of tenacious competitiveness as Michael Schumacher.

The man who had no equals save a fantastic rival

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Of his 91 race wins, many of his sterling victories came with fiercest rival, Finnish Mika Hakkinen watching helplessly in his McLaren powered V10 F1 car of the heydays of motor-sport, inarguably, the last one has seen an F1 era being fantastic. This period was the late 90s and early 2000s.

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No other rival apart from Mika Hakkinen has come closest to thwart Schumacher’s infallible legend. No one has dared to challenge Michael’s place as a supreme, unmovable icon on racing tracks, a command that earned the German the sobriquet, ‘Red Baron’. Of their several intense on-track battles, the one at Spa-Francorchamps at 2000 saw the most domineering contest at the backyard of the beautiful Ardennes. Schumi wouldn’t win the race and in the final moments of a classic Spa fuelled contest would be passed by the icy cool Finn.

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Overtaking was so much a part of Schumacher’s inherent DNA that being overtaken, a sight rare as seeing a rainbow amidst dark clouds wouldn’t be a regular facet. And when it happened, in the initial years by Senna and at his peak, at the hands of Mika, would be accepted by a pinch of salt.

Awe-inspiring stats

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Just a mere look at some numbers lying in Schumacher’s ebb suggest that these aren’t mere numbers. And in fact, do no less than conveying statistical exuberance earned through mega battles and accomplishments on the track . At the same time, hail the man, who through a melange of charisma and die-hard phoneticism toward upholding Formula One as no less than a matter of life and death make him a raging bull and a tireless revolutionary on four-wheels.

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307 race starts. 91 race victories. 155 podium finishes. 70 phenomenal race victories with Ferrari, the hallmark team of F1, the most by any racing driver in the history of the competition. Incidentally, Schumi remains the first ever German racer to become a world champion.

29 Apr 2001: Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher consoles McLaren Mercedes driver Mika Hakkinen after the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. Hakkinen broke down on the final lap to hand victory to Schumacher. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau /Allsport
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How on earth could someone raise the level of motor-racing, an ethereal speed-fest of guts and glory to such a level where the nature of competition became subliminal, enough for rivals to be over-awed, forget bettering?

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Of the present drivers, only tipple world champion Lewis Hamilton and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel put great stakes toward nearing Schumi. They have got age and strength and surely, a capacity to bear the conflicting nature of a sport that seems interested in testing its boundaries in an age where innovation is the key and re-invention the buzzword. While Kimi Raikkonen, most of the times, a silent spectator to the maddening dazzle on the tarmac has more fastest laps than any of the contemporary drivers, trailing Schumi’s 77 (fastest laps) by 34 laps (Kimi’s tally 43), one isn’t sure if he’s too keen on brandishing his personal F1 record, given that 2017 might be his last season.

Early altercations with Senna and a glorious albeit tectonic rise 

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The alphabet S in the combined tapestry and wordy dictionary of Formula One is synonymous to not just Speed but two of the greatest icons of modern day racing- Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2012, Grand Prix of Belgium, #7 Michael Schumacher (GER, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team), *** Local Caption *** +++ www.hoch-zwei.net +++ copyright: HOCH ZWEI +++
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Schumi in his Benetton faced up to stalwarts, experienced foes like Prost and Senna and their much more powerful and capable McLaren’s of 1992 and 1993. The two would go head on, on the track in a bid to outfox one another. The greatest public spectacle of both the driver’s ferocity and unflappable nature would be evidenced in 1993 European Grand Prix at Donnington. A race that proved to be Senna’s ace, powered by his over-powering of opponents, Prost, Damon Hill and others saw Schumi retire and the Brazilian at the top. Schumacher, who had qualified on P3 would skid and lose traction of his Benetton while Senna in a single lap passed 4 drivers under tumultuously wet racing conditions.

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The two also exuded an infallible aura, with Senna seeming to tame tigers on track akin to a lion, injured and waiting to exhale. While Schumacher, both defending and chasing contemporaries would make light-work of their defences and struggles, seeming to lord over them with supreme skill, gallantry and a daring that only the likes of Senna had demonstrated. Truth be told, in none of the 308 race entries of his career has Michael Schumacher ever displayed amateurish tactics or succumbed to petulant strategies or vulnerabilities. The real definition of a pro, therefore, lay in Michael being cool and calm, calculatedly cunning and daringly competitive, enough to keep his fortunes amidst the tall order of a racing fest even when his realistic chances were waning.

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And therefore, one must celebrate this tireless fighter, a contemporary of Wolfgang Von Tripps, a Deutscher who stood firm in the face of over-whelming oddities and who rescued Formula One from being a vexed problem surrounded by unfathomable technical puzzles and mazes. In Schumacher’s race-control lay his element- an indefatigable stance to command and dominate a race that was as ruthless in his hold of a contest as it was respect-worthy for the man’s comradeship of repaying Ferrari’s Jean Todt’s faith. And that is why lacklustre moments such as a less than glorious comeback into Mercedes, alongside 2016 champion Rosberg hurt less. That Schumi battled like a pro and was still competing despite nursing a severe neck condition speaks of his lion-hearted resolve. That could well be the power that can spring everyone’s favourite racing idol back into the thick of things. Till then, keep fighting Michael!

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