Regenmeister

The perfect race: Michael Schumacher






With F1, as we tread our way into 2021 and beyond, ‘Lewis Hamilton’ is the only name that rings a bell for the generation of today. However, the actual fanatics know that Michael Schumacher is the real reason why F1 is so widely watched today.

Dating back to 1991, the German driver, Michael Schumacher, first entered the world of fast cars. Having won competitions and awards in the realm of Go Karts and F3 cars, he was nothing but a novice here.  The mere sight of F1 would take his breath away as they swept past him lap after lap. The smell of burnt rubber over the tarmac, the warmth of the glorious engine, or be it the streamlined shape of the car as it cut through the air, Schumacher had found his destiny. All those years driving karts and F3 cars had brought him to what he was born to do.

Impressed with his successes over the years, the Jordan F1 team decided to sign young Schumacher as their professional driver. Michael debuted for his first race in the iconic Jordan 191, which is still one of the most fondly remembered cars in F1 history, sporting its 7 Up-inspired green and blue ensemble. However, while trying to work his way up in the race, the clutch failed him. This race was the first and last of what Jordan saw with Schumacher.

Immediately afterwards, he moved to Benetton. He knew he was a champion, all he needed was a decent, reliable car. The B194 was just that. It was the successor of B193, fitted with a Ford Zetec-R V8 engine, closely based on its predecessor. With no electronic driving aids, it became incredibly difficult to handle the car. Going fast around the twisty tracks was like taking a risk as big as driving on wet tarmac. But in the hands of Schumacher, the B194 was nothing like anyone had ever experienced. As if they had become one. 




The sound of the rumbling V8 synchronized with the pumping of adrenaline rushing through his veins. It appeared light and nimble, cutting corners like a feather. He had no fear. Schumacher left every other team in the dust. With Benetton, he won eight races earning second place in the Constructors’ Championship that season. Schumacher was improving rapidly and the successes kept piling up. By now he was ready to fight for the first place assault. A contentious collision between Hill and Schumacher ended the 1994 drivers’ title in Schumacher’s favour.
The following year, the V8 was replaced with a V10 in the B195 producing a blistering 750-brake horsepower. The title for the 1995 Championships was again awarded to Schumacher as he crushed the other teams just to see them in his rear views.
With fame came big names, in particular, Ferrari. Ferrari was in a tight corner when they first signed Schumacher, they hadn’t won the championship in a very long time. The reason to sign Schumacher was to put Ferrari back on the top again, they saw in him the man of sporting redemption of the Ferrari legend. And their dream to dominate the F1 world was fulfilled by Michael.
His victories in the 1994 and the 1995 seasons with Benetton were undoubtedly striking and commendable, however, what he did after with the Ferrari was legendary.
It all began on June 2, 1996, in Barcelona, ​​the day he won the Spanish Grand Prix; his first victory in red ... and what a victory!
Despite being one of the most exciting races ever seen in Barcelona, the 1996 Grand Prix was one of the most spellbinding with Michael Schumacher trying to control an unfancied F310 to take the first win of his career with the team in treacherous conditions.



His win at the Circuit de Catalunya was special for Michael for not just one but two reasons; apart from it being his first win driving a Ferrari, this was the race that earned him the title ‘Regenmeister’, which translates to rain-master.
Schumacher risked playing the two-stop strategy and a full wet setup on light tanks. He finished the warmup, setting the time just milliseconds from the fastest set by Damon Hill in the Williams Renault.
With the start of the race, the Ferrari stalled, dropping him to the back to ninth from the grid. He was left in the back to deal with the rain as the vapour condensed over his helmet shield. With a blurry vision, he relayed entirely on his instincts. Struggling with the clutch on the straight and brakes on the corners, Michael was trying to move up the rankings. Jacques Villeneuve had taken the lead after the first corner with the help of his teammate Damon Hill.
Heavy showers of rain were pouring down as every team tried to steer their cars in the right direction. However, with slips here and there, Schumacher managed to get up to the sixth position by the end of the first lap. This recovery was a boost to his morale in the ways that he was getting the hang of his car in this extreme weather and that the other drivers were still struggling.
A few laps into the race, Michael’s teammate Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari spun out and got beached as he tried his best to keep the car onto the track and running. Following this calamity, Damon Hill’s Renault had a moment and ran off track. Schumacher played this off-track excursion to his advantage and moved up to the fourth position. The F310’s V10 roared on as it eclipsed Gerhard Berger’s Benetton for third place by the next lap. Pushing to the third from ninth was not just a coincidence, instead Schumacher was lapping two seconds a lap faster than the rest. At this point, he had bagged close to around six seconds of lead in his favour. 



As if possessed by Jim Clarke, Schumacher was lapping 3.7 seconds faster than Jacques Villeneuve and Jean Alesi, who were still in the lead.
Schumacher’s progress, whilst undoubtedly helped by the strategy and setup, thereafter, was scintillating; the then-double world champion was managing to find lines that shouldn’t have been there, straying off of the rubber laden racing line to find grip on the wetter extremities of the tarmac, which given the wet tyres on the car, gave him a grip advantage.
Setting up faster lap times than the ones in the lead, Schumacher began his charge, closing the gap to Alesi in second. A shiver went down his spine as he spurred his way to catch up with Alesi. Goosebumps all over his body, perhaps it was skill or perhaps it was the static voyaging through the blood in his veins, the fifth corner on lap seven reformed the whole race. Having caught up with Benetton, the Ferrari swept around outside the Renault to take Alesi for second after braking late and putting the nose of his car just ahead of Alesi’s front tyre, forcing him to move his Renault out of the way. This was the defining moment of the race. As Schumacher rammed on, cutting the raindrops with the sharp edges of his Ferrari, he wiped his helmet clean of the drops just to see Villeneuve within striking distance in the lead.
Further in the back, Damon Hill had another spin out in the eighth lap. Spiralling on the wet tarmac, Hill’s F1 went off the rails and onto the gravel, eventually hitting the barrier and coming to a stop. And with this his chance at the Grand Prix. However, Hill was not the only unfortunate driver that day. Many others had lost their chance at even trying to pick up the pace due to the extreme weather. For Schumacher, they were so far back on the track that they had become non-existent for him.
He was just competing against the lead racer now. 



He desperately waited to lock his target on Villeneuve before he could squeeze the fire handle and eliminate Williams-Renault once and for all. Trying to fathom the track with its corners in his mind, he had now cut very close to Villeneuve. Splashes from the whirling tyres fogged Schumacher’s vision. Sitting in a seat soaked with water, and dressed in damp overalls, Michael had had enough and could not take any extra vapour from the splashes as was already over him and under him. Three laps later, he pulled the same move on Villeneuve. Slamming the accelerator on the fifth corner, he placed the F310’s nose ahead of his tyre. Carefully safeguarding his Renault, Villeneuve moved out of Schumacher’s way, giving him the lead.

Confronted with the challenge of retaining the lead, Schumacher exceeded all expectations. Finishing subsequent laps with a quicker time, he ended up recording his fastest lap of all in the 14th. In his 12th lap after crossing Villeneuve, he had consolidated a tremendous lead of 40 seconds by the time of his first pit stop. As quick as they could be, the Ferrari crew cost him 20 seconds when he emerged.

To recover the time lost at the pit stop, Schumacher stormed on, eventually taking a lead of a staggering minute and a half over the others. However, this again was reduced to a 90 second lead when he stopped for his second and final pit on lap 42. Crossing lap after lap in the lead, no other driver dared come near him. Schumacher had gambled against nature and was on his way to the finishing line. The best drivers could not hold him back, and neither could the heavy rain on the tarmac. On the edge of his seat, he could see the finishers on his 65th lap. A hurray went up from the crowd as the flags were swung for the Ferrari. This was his first epic victory for Ferrari in a car that was far from the class of the field.

And on that day, 25 years ago in Barcelona, began the story of the invincible pilot in the red overalls..





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