Professional race car driver
Born January 3, 1969, in Huerth-Hermuelheim, Germany; son of Rolf (a bricklayer and go-kart track worker) and Elisabeth (a go-kart track worker); married Corinna Betsch (an office worker), 1995; children: Gina-Maria, Mick.
Addresses: Management —Weber Management GmbH, Traenkestrasse 11, Stuttgart, DE 70597, Germany.
Joined Benetton's Formula One racing team, 1991; won first race, 1992; won first two Formula One championships, 1994 and 1995; joined Ferrari's Formula One team, 1996; won five straight championships, 2000-04.
Awards: Formula One champion, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.
One of the world's richest, most famous athletes, Michael Schumacher has won more Formula One auto-racing championships than any other driver. Some fans enjoy hating Schumacher because of his controversial racing tactics, but he has a lot of fans too, and his success has won him grudging respect from others. He may not be well-known in the United States, but that is only because American
Ever since he was a little boy, Schumacher has been racing. His father, Rolf, a bricklayer, also worked part-time at a go-kart track with his mother, Elisabeth. They would let Michael ride a go-kart around the track on off hours while they worked, and by the time he was five, they noticed that he was very good at it. He won his first club championship at age six. Though his family was not well-off, he would keep his often inferior karts going by scavenging parts from other boys' wrecked karts.
As he got older, Schumacher began racing sports cars. In 1988, race team sponsor Wilhelm Weber noticed his talent and invited him to join his team. In a sign of how certain Weber was that Schumacher would be a star, he allowed the young racer to come on the team without providing a sponsor to fund his car, which was a rare move. Weber has been Schumacher's manager ever since. Three years later, Weber convinced Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan to let Schumacher race for Jordan's team once as a substitute. He made his debut in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, and quickly proved his skill. Within a week, he signed a contract—with a different team, Benetton.
Schumacher won his first Formula One race in 1992 and another the next year. He won the world championship in 1994, becoming the first German champion. He dedicated his win to his mentor Ayrton Senna, the champion racer who had died that year in the San Marino Grand Prix. Schumacher won eight races on the way to the title, even though he was banned from two for breaking two minor rules.
The 1994 championship was decided in the season's final race, in a dramatic fashion that gave Schumacher a reputation in some circles as a poor sport. He was two points ahead of rival Damon Hill in the championship standings when the last race began. Seconds ahead of Hill in the race, Schumacher brushed against the racetrack's wall, and Hill moved to pass him. Schumacher swerved and crashed into Hill, knocking both drivers out of the race—which preserved Schumacher's lead and gave him the championship. Schumacher claimed he had lost control of his car, but much of the racing press believed he had crashed into Hill on purpose. The rivalry between Schumacher and Hill lasted into 1995, when Schumacher repeated as champion, this time unsullied by controversy.
For the 1996 season, Schumacher left Benetton for the Ferrari team and a rumored base salary of $25 million. It was Ferrari's attempt to make a comeback, since the team's last championship had been in 1979. Schumacher, hobbled by a car that broke down a lot, lost the title to Hill in 1996. But the next year, he vied for the championship with a new rival, Jacques Villeneuve. In what seemed like a repeat of his 1994 season, he began the last race slightly ahead of Villeneuve in the standings, and again, when his rival tried to pass him, he crashed into him. But Villeneuve's car shrugged off the crash, while Schumacher was knocked out of the race. This time, Schumacher was punished for a deliberate collision; his second-place finish was officially deleted from the standings.
Bad luck plagued Schumacher the next two seasons. In 1998 he again went into the last race with a chance to win the championship, but he punctured a tire and lost. In 1999, he severely broke a leg in a crash during the British Grand Prix and finished fifth in the final season standings.
Then, Schumacher made a comeback, winning the championship in 2000, 2001, and 2002 by taking first place in nine races each of the first two years and eleven races the third. "Schumacher's combination of raw speed, racecraft, tactical awareness and sublime skill in the rain sets him apart from the pack," wrote Kate Noble of Time International.
With his success, Schumacher's controversial racing style became somewhat more accepted. "By the end of last season," quipped Sports Illustrated writer Jeff MacGregor in a 2003 profile, "what had formerly been referred to as Michael Schumacher's 'willingness to commit the professional foul' was being extolled by backpedaling journalists as his 'canny race craft.' " Still, in 2002, Formula One began changing its rules to try to limit Schumacher's runaway success.
It did not work. Schumacher won the championships in 2003 and 2004 as well, for a total of seven championships, including five straight. He won 13 races in 2004, for a total of 83 wins in his career. He and his Ferrari teammate, Rubens Barrichello, so completely dominate Formula One that the sport is commonly criticized for no longer being competitive enough to interest fans. In 2005, Formula One will again change its rules to try to rein in Schumacher. But he insists he has not made the sport boring. Something very special is happening with Ferrari, Terry McCarthy of Time quoted him as saying. I think people want to see who is going to be the first to beat us, too.
Schumacher is now the most successful Formula One driver ever. He makes about $80 million per year (half in salary, half in sponsorships and endorsements), and he is one of the two highest-paid athletes in the world, behind only golfer Tiger Woods. The racing press in Great Britain and France often nicknames him the "Red Baron" and caricatures him as an unfeeling German, but others say he has shown a wide range of emotion, seeming ecstatic after big wins or weeping in 2000 after he tied the number of wins (41) achieved by his idol, Senna.
Five feet, eight inches tall and weighing 164 pounds in 2003, Schumacher works out obsessively, giving him a stamina that may account for much of his success in his physically demanding sport. His brother, Ralf, is also a Formula One driver. Schumacher and his wife, Corinna, have two children and live in Vufflens, Switzerland.
AP Worldstream, October 26, 2004.
Halifax Daily News, October 28, 2004.
Sports Illustrated, July 17, 1995; April 28, 2003, pp. 55-62.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), October 24, 2004.
Time, July 26, 2004, p. 56.
Time International, September 3, 2001, p. 52.
"Michael Schumacher Biography," mSchumacher.com, http://www.mschumacher.com/biography.html (November 28, 2004).