By TJ13 contributor Daniel van Bree
Determination, an extreme level of competitiveness and a unique driving style which he could adapt to changing conditions and changing formulas alike.
Michael Schumacher, son of Rolf Schumacher was a talent which dominated the sport in the 90s and early 00s.
Rolf Schumacher who as father, took the decision to support his son’s karting efforts by taking up a second job working on, and reselling karts at the local track. His talent proved itself from the start, winning titles in nearly every category he ever competed in. To put it into perspective: during his time in karts and junior single seaters, his only finish in the overall standings outside the top 3, being a 6th place in the German formula Ford 1600 series.
By 1990, his manager Willi Weber was convinced that driving for Mercedes in the world sports car series would increase Schumacher’s exposure to the media and with it an increased chance of reaching his ultimate goal: Formula 1.
Mercedes were so impressed with his performance in fact that they would provide the financial backing for a possible debut in Formula 1, should the chance choose to show itself.
Schumacher and Weber had been planning to land a seat in Formula 1 for the 1992 season. However, fortune would turn the odds in their favour already in 1991. At the time, Jordan’s Bertrand Gachot was sentenced to jail for attacking a London cabby. His seat would be vacant for the remainder of the year but more importantly also for the upcoming Belgian grand prix.
When Weber heard the news he immediately contacted Eddie Jordan to ascertain the position for young Schumacher . As Jordan was a fledgling but highly promising outfit, anyone looking to get a seat was required to bring money first, and talent second. With the backing from Mercedes and a growing reputation in the racing scene of being a promising talent, Weber was able to land Schumacher the drive. Additionally, Schumacher would provide sponsorship in the form of Tic Tac and Dekra.
With the commercial side taken care of, talent could now be allowed to show itself. To reassure Jordan, Weber assured him that Schumacher had lapped Spa ‘at least a 1000 times’. In reality, Schumacher had never driven at the circuit before. His first lap around this challenging circuit was completed on a foldable bike. Having impressed the Jordan team in testing the week prior, the young German would start the Friday by setting the 8th fastest time.
The combination of the Jordan 191, Spa-Francochamps and Michael Schumacher was a match made in heaven. Qualifying yielded 8th place for Schumacher, which was elevated to 7th place after Patrese’s time was disallowed when scrutinizing revealed his reverse gear to be faulty.
Ahead of Schumacher were Senna, Prost, Mansell, Berger, Alesi and Piquet. Schumacher’s more experienced but accident-prone team mate Andrea de Cesaris qualified in 11th, 4 places back. Schumacher was typically reserved in the post-qualifying interviews by admitting that the car was great around this track, and that a lot of his performance was down to the team’s simple but excellent design of the Jordan 191.
During pre-race warm-up on Sunday the Jordan really hit its stride, with Michael setting a 4th place time. Things were looking great for the afternoon. It looked as if the race itself would be yet another highpoint for the young German.
Unfortunately, during the warm-up lap and whilst waiting on the grid for the field to bunch up, his clutch was starting to overheat. Although he made a great start which brought him all the way up to 5th, his clutch had to give way due to the added strains of a fast getaway. The race was over for him after only 3 corners. Taking into consideration that Andrea de Cesaris was running in 2nd near the end of the race before his engine faltered, one can only imagine what could have been possible for Schumacher that day.
It was a rather anti-climactic end to a very promising weekend. He would set the record straight the following year. He won his first grand prix in the Belgian Ardennes ’92, in adverse weather conditions. A staggering 90 more wins would follow during his entire career.