The season did not start all that well: two drop outs and a fifth position. But Michael changed course, won five times in a row and won the title ahead of time.
Growing international recognition
At the final he met a competitor who would 10 years later again cross his path and become his number one challenger. A Finn called Mika Häkkinen, a British Formula 3 driver, snatched the win at the season final away from Michael. Only a few weeks later Michael got the chance to counterattack and at the very prestigious F3 Grand Prix in Macau. This time he won, whereas Häkkinen’s last attack ended in a crash barrier. Michael’s victories in Macau and shortly after that in Fuji gained international recognition and attention.
On the national level Michael already convinced in 1989, during his first Formula 3 season. The first time he drove for WTS, he became third. In the middle of the season he was already among the top3, won the fifth race and stood on the top of the podium for the first time. In the end Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Michael missed out on the title by one point and the newly crowned F3 champion was called Karl Wendlinger.
Practice for Formula 1
The trio Schumacher – Wendlinger – Frentzen would get a chance to get to know each other better real soon. After Mercedes re-entry into the top level motor sport, Jochen Neerpasch signed all three of them for the Mercedes Junior racing programme. For two years Michael drove a Mercedes C with 750 hp – a perfect preparation for the fast Formula 1 cars.
Mercedes not only taught him how to handle a powerful racing car. The young drivers also were taught how to deal with the press, the engineers, the sponsors. How do you behave at a gala dinner? How do you communicate with the team in English? Everything that a race driver has to know despite how to drive a car.
Tryouts in F3000 and DTM
In the season 1990 the three Mercedes Juniors took turns in being Jochen Mass’s teammate. Michael won once and became second twice. He finished fifth in the driver’s championship. In 1991 some of the rules were changed and Mercedes was not as competitive as the year before: five retirements, two fifth places and only one victory at the final race of the season in Autopolis in Japan – but at that time Michaels was already a Formula 1 pilot.
Along the way he drove several times in the DTM and one race in the Japanese Formula 3000. It was Jochen Neerpasch who enabled him to test his skills in a in a F3000 car. This series was then considered to be the door to Formula 1. Michael becomes second, despite the fact that he did not know the track, right behind the experienced F3000 pilot Ross Cheever.
Only in the DTM things were not going so great. 1990 was Michael’s debut at the season final in Hockenheim but already in the first lap he collided with Johnny Cecetto. A year after that he drove another two races for Mercedes in the DTM but never got better than position 14 and 25. “It kind of was not working for me, sitting in a car with no roof“, he says today. The sports cars also had a roof but somehow that was different. “I do not know why but everything worked out right from the start. I liked the speed. I think that back then I established a good basis for the Formula 1.”
Courtesy by motorsport-magazin.com