Michael Schumacher: 20 years of genius and controversy
Michael Schumacher – the name is associated with success, passion and perfectionism. Yet when racing fans are asked to comment, an additional term crops up again and again: controversy.
Let's take a look at the more notorious incidents in a successful career – from the illegal use of launch control to ignoring the black flag, a deliberate collision and a near-brawl with David Coulthard, through to the most famous parking manoeuvre of all time.
In 1994, when Michael Schumacher was regularly making perfect starts against the superior Williams-Renault, the competition sat up and took notice. An investigation by the FIA revealed that the Benetton team had an automatic starter on board, which was outlawed that season. There was no evidence that the system had been used in a race, but after the investigation, Schumacher did not win another start that year.
Although it ended in his first world championship title, it was a highly controversial season throughout: at Silverstone, he overtook the then still impetuous young driver Damon Hill on the formation lap. Under team orders, he failed to take the stop-go penalty in the designated window. Although he took the time penalty later, he was disqualified and placed under observation.
During this probationary period, a worn-down skidblock at the Belgian Grand Prix resulted in a two-race ban. Despite this, Schumacher still managed to barge his way through to the title. During the final race in Adelaide, he crashed into a wall and the race appeared to be over. Damon Hill then tried rashly to pass the hobbled German – who used the opportunity to hit him. Both cars had to retire, and Schumacher was crowned world champion.
In 1997, Schumacher was again in the running for the title. In the Jerez GP, Jacques Villeneuve caught up with him just before the hairpin and attempted to squeeze past. But the German driver turned his car in on the corner and collided with the French Canadian. The manoeuvre that had given Senna the title in 1990 and Schumacher the title in 1994 did not work this time. He ended up in the gravel and the FIA then disqualified him from the Drivers' Championship.
The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix showed both sides of Schumacher like no other race: in wet conditions, the Ferrari driver had banished the entire field and established an unassailable lead when he ran into the back of David Coulthard's McLaren. It is still not clear whether the Scot deliberately lifted – anyway they crashed while lapping. More angry than he had ever been in his life, Schumacher stormed into the McLaren pit and might well have assaulted Coulthard, had he not been restrained by his mechanics.
In his last year with Ferrari, Schumacher was once again in the fight for the championship – this time with Fernando Alonso, a man not dissimilar in character. During qualifying in Monaco, the German had initially set the fastest time, but he could not improve on it at his last attempt. Alonso on the other hand was on course for pole position. Consequently, the adoptive Swiss parked his car at Rassecasse, which brought out the yellow flags. Alonso was therefore unable to improve on his time, Schumacher, however, was relegated to the back of the grid. The next day he drove in an irresistible fashion, working his way up the field into fifth place.
Controversy is a thread that runs through Schumacher's career; without such incidents, it would only be half as interesting. Schumacher polarises opinion like no other driver. And it is precisely because of this that people watch Formula One – some want to see him win, others to see him fail. He is a racing driver who has consistently performed a balancing act between genius and controversy.