The “nearest things”, as Michael calls it, worked well, and so after that race weekend the pundits had a new name to watch out for: Michael Schumacher. He might just make it big.
That Spa-Francorchamps should be Michael Schumacher’s first race was a coincidence, you could argue: It was because Eddie Jordan urgently needed a driver for his up-and-coming team, because the official driver Bertrand Gachot was suddenly in prison after an incident with a London taxi driver. It was because Michael’s manager at the time, Willi Weber, was permanently playing the nag with the team boss. It was because Michael’s other sponsor at the time, Jochen Neerpasch, used the illustrious name of Mercedes as an argument. And it was because of the impression the young Formula 3000 driver had previously made during testing.
That Spa-Francorchamps was to be Michael Schumacher’s first race was anything but a coincidence, however, many Formula 1 supporters argue. They see it as a kind of predestination, because Schumacher immediately felt at home on the impressive circuit in the Ardennes. And because it seems as if this circuit and Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 career are interwoven in an indeterminable way.
In Spa, he experiences glorious highlights of his career and nerve-shattering crises – it’s as if Schumacher’s racing life revolves around the massive curves of this circuit that he loves so much: “This circuit is something very special, it has its own, idiosyncratic character. It’s a real challenge for every driver, it demands all your skills. It is by far my favourite circuit.”
The race weekend, Friday, the first practice. Michael stands in the truck where the screws and spare parts are stored, at the very back, far from the door. His face angular and closed, his gaze turned inwards. In one swift movement he slips the fireproof balaclava over his head, pulls up the green overalls, slips on the sleeves and zips up. On the flap they have taped over the name of team-mate de Cesaris and written Schumacher’s name on it – there is no money for his own overall, and who knows how long this Schumacher will be with the team.