The first race
This text is taken from the book “Schumacher. The official and authorised inside story on the end of his career”:
A dull pressure in the head. Heavy eyes, sniffing nose. The voice busy, almost too deep for a 22-year-old. The chin defiantly pushed forward, the mouth even smaller than usual. When the young man enters the youth hostel, on this evening at the end of August 1991, he fights his malaise. A severe cold he caught while travelling, Japan – Europe – Japan, so many long-distance flights in a short period of time wear down even such a well-trained athlete as he is: a Formula 3000 driver on an unusual path.
On the eve of his first race weekend in Formula 1, Michael Schumacher is not really fit, but he would never let it show. Michael looks back: “I remember feeling absolutely awful at the time. I was sick, had a pretty bad cold, and of course I knew that this condition was not so great for my first race weekend. Accordingly, I couldn’t sleep well. It was mainly due to the fact that I had driven Formula 3000 before, in Japan. I was constantly fighting jet-lag. When I arrived there in Spa that night, I felt strangely restricted: like when you have that tunnel vision where you don’t see anything anymore and you only focus on the nearest things.”
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.
Saturday: The unknown youngster fights his way almost sensationally to seventh place in qualifying and catches the the F1 world in the first Formula 1 qualifying of his life in the dangerous Blanchimont curve by surprise- “we managed at that time with Jordan that we tuned the car so well that I could drive Blanchimont fully” – and thus wins the attention of the established drivers in one fell swoop.
His race itself was already over after about 500 metres due to clutch damage. But by then, one of the greatest stories in motorsport had already begun.