The day Germany awakes as champion

20 years ago Michael won his first title, but the effects are still being felt today. In 1994 an entire nation finally discovered her love of motor sport.

The day Germany awakes as champion

Neither Michael nor his rival Damon Hill managed to finish the crucial race in Adelaide. But in his third year with Benetton, the driver and the team were not going to allow anything to stop them from reaching their goal. It was a dramatic year, full of tragedies and political battles. The rising star from the German town of Kerpen was initially taken so seriously that he was even criticized away from the track. In this season, Michael learned that above all else he could rely on himself. In particular, after his first victory he began to get an inkling of what he might be able to achieve in Formula 1.

Formula 1 became Formula Schumacher. And in Germany a similar phenomenon was being seen to what happened nine years earlier after Boris Becker’s first win at Wimbledon; a boom was emerging. The only difference was that motorsport’s close links to the automotive industry meant it could also have an enormous economic impact. Michael’s championship victory gave credibility to a sport that had previously been regarded as an expensive playground for adrenaline junkies. Lots of German companies suddenly wanted a piece of this premier championship, and became involved as sponsors or players. This was on an entirely new scale, with social repercussions too. Formula 1 was suddenly respectable.

It almost seemed like the Germans, with their love of the motor car, were just waiting for a sporting outlet for the title “Made in Germany”. Suddenly discussions among pub regulars about the state of play in the German soccer league had to compete against Formula 1. Tens of millions of people also watched the races broadcast on television, and huge numbers flocked to kart tracks. In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, new pupils wore Schumacher caps on their way to school, with official approval. Formula 1 had finally arrived in the land of the autobahn.

By contrast, the first of seven world championship titles barely changed Michael Schumacher as a person and as a sportsman. “I am not a legend,” he said defensively early on, “I’m just someone who is lucky enough to be good at something he enjoys doing.” This public coyness concealed an enormous will. Even as a 25-year-old, he began to characterize an entirely new type of Formula 1 racing driver: more analytical, fitter, more complex. Challenging himself became part of his daily routine.