Michael Schumacher | 30 Years Ago at Spa - A Strong Qualifying Started Something Special

30 Years Ago At Spa - A Strong Qualifying Started Something Special.jpg
The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix is in the books - or at least the few laps behind the Safety Car that apparently were enough to award some points. Suffice to say that the event is going to be talked about for a while. Coincidentally, when the Formula 1 circus rolled up to Spa-Francorchamps 30 years ago, it was special as well, just for a more positive reason. The race featured the debut of a certain young German who would turn out to be one of the sport's greates of all time - it was, of course, Michael Schumacher.

The very first Formula 1 race of the eventual seven-time world champion is a great story of "what if". By now, everyone most likely knows why Bertrand Gachot's Jordan cockpit was vacant for the weekend, the French-Belgian racer having been jailed after an altercation with a cab driver in London. This left Andrea de Cesaris as the lone Jordan driver, and legendary team boss Eddie Jordan looking for a replacement.

Schumacher, meanwhile, was racing in multiple series at the time. The reigning German Formula 3 champion was part of the Mercedes junior program and - an often overlooked part of his career - in his second year with the Sauber-Mercedes team in the World Sportscar Championship, even finishing fifth in that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans in one of their Group C beasts. Also part of his schedule were a few DTM starts, as well as a sole outing in the Japanese Formula 3000 at Sportsland Sugo.

His Group C background turned out to be a decisive factor in why Jordan contacted Schumacher and his manager Willi Weber. The Irishman was convinced that Schumacher had raced at Spa before in WSC, which the German confirmed - even though he had never been to the circuit before, as he admitted later on. Still, the emergency lie got him a short test at Silverstone's Stowe Circuit, were Jordan's engineers could barely believe their eyes with how quickly the German adapted to the car.

After having scouted the track for the first time by famously riding a bicycle around it, Schumacher took to Spa just as well, if not better. While de Cesaris managed to qualify a respectable 11th - remember, 1991 was Jordan's first year in the sport, and the team even had to go through pre-qualifying at the start of the season - Schumacher showed flashes of what was to come for the first time by putting the #32 car in 7th, right behind the Benetton of Nelson Piquet who would be his teammate for the rest of the year, as it turned out later.

Unfortunately, Schumacher would not get the chance to show what he could do in the race: A clutch issue saw the Jordan grind to a halt at the top of Raidillon on lap one already. What could have been - that question was only made more interesting by de Cesaris's race. The Italian had worked his way up to second position when his engine blew up with just three laps to go. What would Schumacher have been able to do with the Jordan on that day? We will never know. He did go on to show the world what he was capable of as a driver, taking his first win exactly one year later at Spa.

While it is impossible to know what would have happened had the gearbox lasted on August 25th, 1991, it is possible to metaphorically put ourselves in Michael's shoes thanks to sim racing. VRC has created an amazing version of the Jordan 191 for Assetto Corsa that really highlights how differrent F1 was 30 years ago. With semi-automatic gearboxes having been introduced only two years earlier by Ferrari, a lot of the cars on the 1991 grid still featured a manual h-pattern gearbox, including the Jordan. It makes it a handful to drive, sure, but it is also great fun to pound around a track like Spa with the distinct Ford V8 sound screaming in your ears while heel-toeing your way around the braking zones.

Schumacher would follow up his maiden victory at Spa with five more at the track over the course of his career, all of them being special in one way or another. In 1995, he made his way through the field after having started in 16th, taking the win in changing conditions. One year later, Michael dragged the sub-par Ferrari F310 to a remarkable victory after a heavy crash in practice, celebrating his second-ever Ferrari win.

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By the time of the Belgian Grand Prix, a high nose had fixed some of the Ferrari F310's problems. The low-nose version (pictured) was still in use when Schumacher took his first pole position for the Italian team at the 1996 San Marino Grand Prix.

In 1997, it was another Schumacher victory at Spa, this time leaving the rest of the field no chance in a race that started in the soaking wet and dried off after. His 2001 win saw him pass Alain Prost as the winningest driver in F1 history at that point, celebrating his 52nd career victory. His final win at Spa in 2002 made him the first driver to ever win ten Grand Prixs in a single season.

Of course, those are only a fraction of the impressive stats and even more impressive drives Michael racked up over the course of his career. It all started with an impressive qualifying result and roughly 800 meters of racing at Spa 30 years ago. Without the hype that followed in Germany, I might not have gotten into (sim) racing like I did watching "Schumi" growing up - which is why he will always be a hero to me.

How about you - did Michael's career have an impact on your interest in sim racing and motorsports? What are your favorite Schumi moments? Feel free to add a comment!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

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Yannik Haustein
Staff
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To start off the "favorite moments" discussion, let me share mine:
There is no moment that is more memorable to me than Schumacher's first Ferrari title that he secured at Suzuka in 2000. I remember getting up early to watch the race with my parents and being overjoyed when he finally pulled it off - for me, it was like watching him win his first title since I was too young to really remember the Benetton years as I was born in 1991. Because of that, I had only seen Michael miss out every year up to that point, so I was as happy as a nine-year old could be that Sunday morning. Even made a with my dad to put up in my room's window to celebrate that title.

Something I came to appreciate way later was his incredible pace at the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back at it now, it should not have been possible to pull off that qualifying pace in the middle of a race. Truly iconic.
 
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In case anyone is interested, I was listening to this at my night shift the other day.

Beyond the Grid interview with Bertrand.

Really honest, frank interview, especially about his time in prison. What I didn’t realize is he’s the guy behind the Hype energy drink brand! Lol.

Mod-edit: video can be seen here

you can also find it on podcasts as well.

it also shows what a sneaky old fox Eddie Jordan was. They are friends now but he was looking at any reason to get rid of him. He desperately needed a driver with more money at the time so would never have been able to hang on to Michael anyway.

being a 787b fan it was also nice they talked about the Mazda win as well.
 
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Bram
Staff
Premium
My best MSC moments were during his last seasons with Mercedes. Not because of his impressive results on track but simply for that fact that his hard developing work during those seasons have been the solid foundation under the decade of dominance by Mercedes, Hamilton and Rosberg to follow. I wish he would have stayed on a few more years to enjoy the successes on track himself as a 40 plus year old.

Thanks for sharing this post Yannik!
 
Ho avuto la fortuna di averlo visto dal vivo alcune volte a Maranello fuori dalle gare e anche a Fiorano. (abito a 10 km di distanza). grande persona dentro e fuori la pista. sempre nei cuori Ferrari
 
He is my hero. Even through the Hill years I was always a Schumacher fan. My favourite memory was going to the British GP in 95 when I got to see him in person. It ended in disaster as Hill took him out but hearing the crowd reaction and seeing it all unfold in front of my eyes was the day I fell in love with F1.

He's a winner, that's what I love most about him.
 
I never liked him, never admired him and still find it impossible to understand those who do. I hated his driving style, his arrogance on track, his lack of sportsmanship. Yes, he was massively talented and he probably was a good person off-track, but to me he set a bad example for young drivers. I am absolutely convinced that he won the 1994 title because Benetton was cheating and because he deliberately ran into Hill at the last race of the season.

And yes, I am aware that Senna also did some very questionable things on track. But to me the Schumacher era marks the end of the gentleman-driver, when it was simply not acceptable to bully your way on a race track. Now, drivers hit each other all the time, to the point when we now have all these penalties during races.

Apologies to Schumacher fans everywhere... :(
 
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I never liked him, never admired him and still find it impossible to understand those who do. I hated his driving style, his arrogance on track, his lack of sportsmanship. Yes, he was massively talented and he probably was a good person off-track, but to me he set a bad example for young drivers. I am absolutely convinced that he won the 1994 title because Benetton was cheating and because he deliberately ran into Hill at the last race of the season.

And yes, I am aware that Senna also did some very questionable things on track. But to me the Schumacher era marks the end of the gentleman-driver, when it was simply not acceptable to bully your way on a race track. Now, drivers hit each other all the time, to the point when we now have all these penalties during races.

Apologies to Schumacher fans everywhere... :(
Schumacher is not the reason we have all these penalties nowadays, that's on the risk averse and nanny state culture that took hold of society; to the point it's a miracle there is not yet a permanent 'lockdown' on motorsports as a whole.

Senna on the other hand is the actual reason we have speed limits on the pitlane as he often used to overtake people by short cutting it... Which will no doubt come as a shock to the Senna fans, since they never actually followed any of the events or watched the races he was in.
 
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I never liked him, never admired him and still find it impossible to understand those who do. I hated his driving style, his arrogance on track, his lack of sportsmanship. Yes, he was massively talented and he probably was a good person off-track, but to me he set a bad example for young drivers. I am absolutely convinced that he won the 1994 title because Benetton was cheating and because he deliberately ran into Hill at the last race of the season.

And yes, I am aware that Senna also did some very questionable things on track. But to me the Schumacher era marks the end of the gentleman-driver, when it was simply not acceptable to bully your way on a race track. Now, drivers hit each other all the time, to the point when we now have all these penalties during races.

Apologies to Schumacher fans everywhere... :(

“Being a racing driver means you are racing with other people and if you no longer go for a gap that exists you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing.”​

This can be looked at two ways. 1) Everything the greats did (Schumacher, and Senna among many) is legitamite, and should be accepted as part of the sport with acceptable penalties for certain situations - as we have in other sports. 2) We abandon this idea - let the nanny state take over, and end up with the dull uninteresting races we've been having with red flags, penalties up the wazoo, accusations, sensationalist journalism trying to generate tension between drivers, and teams paying other teams for the repairs to their cars.

We if we continue down route 2 we may as well end all motorsport, or use self-driving cars with some kind of safety cage / netting / fencing around the entire track - or just televise only.
 
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“Being a racing driver means you are racing with other people and if you no longer go for a gap that exists you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing.”​

This can be looked at two ways. 1) Everything the greats did (Schumacher, and Senna among many) is legitamite, and should be accepted as part of the sport with acceptable penalties for certain situations - as we have in other sports.
But the greats of the 50's, 60's and 70's never drove like Senna or Schumacher. I can't imagine Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio, Graham Hill, etc. doing what Senna did to Nannini at Hungary in 1990 or Schumacher to Barrichello in 2010 (also in Hungary.)

The quote you refer to is not a justification for moves like that. It means that you have to try to pass your rival when possible, but it doesn't mean you have to bully, hit or drive into another car.

I think Senna was a fantastic driver but his death has made people forget that he could also drive dirty. The worst example is Suzuka 1990, of course. The "Senna" movie was excellent but it really "whitewashed" his reputation when it came to his on track behavior. Just like I'm sure the upcoming Netflix documentary about Schumacher will probably do the same.
 
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Senna on the other hand is the actual reason we have speed limits on the pitlane as he often used to overtake people by short cutting it... Which will no doubt come as a shock to the Senna fans, since they never actually followed any of the events or watched the races he was in.
Actually, pit lane speed limits were introduced during races after Imola 1994, when a Minardi lost a wheel after pitting, injuring 2 or 3 mechanics.

I don't quite understand why you wrote that Senna fans never saw him race...
 
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Actually, pit lane speed limits were introduced during races after Imola 1994, when a Minardi lost a wheel after pitting, injuring 2 or 3 mechanics.

I don't quite understand why you wrote that Senna fans never saw him race...
Figures... Had you followed F1 back then you'd know that talk of mandatory pitlane speed limits started the year before, when Senna (yet again) overtook Prost by short cutting the track at full speed via the pitlane and ended up setting the laptime record in the process... A stunt he'd pulled multiple times before and one only a ******* would ever even think of doing.
 
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Figures... Had you followed F1 back then you'd know that talk of mandatory pitlane speed limits started the year before, when Senna (yet again) overtook Prost by short cutting the track at full speed via the pitlane and ended up setting the laptime record in the process... A stunt he'd pulled multiple times before and one only a ******* would ever even think of doing.
And yet… they were still implemented as a result of Alboreto losing a wheel in the Imola pitlane. Nice try at rewriting history.

FYI, I have been following F1 since 1978 and I remember the 1994 season very well.
 
And yet… they were still implemented as a result of Alboreto losing a wheel in the Imola pitlane. Nice try at rewriting history.

FYI, I have been following F1 since 1978 and I remember the 1994 season very well.
I'm not rewriting anything. It's an easily verifiable fact. You're just ignorant about it.
 
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I don't love or hate Michael Schumacher. If you were to say that he was only a cheat, or wasn't one of the greatest F1 drivers I would disagree with you. That being said, three incidents I witnessed put a very bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Michael. The first was when he crashed on his own in 1994 in Australia, then drove the broken car back on track, and crashed into Damon Hill. Not a very sporting way to win your first championship. The second was in 1997, at Jerez, when he drove his car right into the side of Jacques Villeneuve to try and stop him from clinching the title. Again, not very sporting. But the most egregious thing I ever saw him do was in 2006, at Monaco, when he parked his car at La Rascasse to stop other drivers from beating his pole time. One has to remember that at this time he was already a seven time WDC winner, which makes his actions in Monaco even more disgraceful.

He was a great driver no doubt, and easily one of the top 5 who have ever driven in F1. If I hadn't witnessed his whole F1 career, and some of the depths he was willing to descend to get a win, I would probably have a lot higher opinion of him.
 
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The unbridled leap for joy every time he won.
Nobody worked harder, nobody appreciated every single win as much.
Almost* every one of his wins looked like its first.
*other than some exceptions when it wouldn't have been appropriate to celebrate due to tragedy*

Despite all the dirt flung his way by the mainly British media its also been highly amusing to see over the years the people that actually worked with and knew him come out and say he was a genuinely great guy.
A good example is from this book:
Some long time caterers in F1, pointed out that some drivers disappeared up their own backsides with success but Michael never changed and was always their friend.

I also remember an Australian journalist left speechless when he asked Martin Whitmarsh whats something people don't know about F1. He bluntly said that people think Michael Schumacher is an arrogant pig when he couldn't be a genuinely nicer guy. Damon Hill was a prat who wouldn't say hello back to you. Bill Woods was left dumbfounded haha.

Queue all the twits in this thread that will say Michael committed murder on track for not ceding in some situations (while he was ahead) while they blissfully ignore Senna ploughing at high speed into the back of his rivals if it suited him.

ZOMG attempted MURDER
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Hes a 'complicated genius'
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