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.


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!