In the world of sport, the term “legend” is reserved for an elite group of individuals — sportspeople who have distinguished themselves in ways previously thought unimaginable: Roger Federer for winning 17 singles grand slam titles; Michael Phelps for 18 gold medals at the Olympics; Sachin Tendulkar for hitting 100 centuries through his career; Joe Montana for winning four Super Bowls as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. In the world of motorsport, Michael Schumacher was definitely a “legend.” In an illustrious 19-year racing career, Schumi (as he’s affectionately known) won a record seven championships, a record 91 races, and started the most races ever from pole position.
Last year on Dec. 29, while skiing with his family in the Swiss Alps, Schumacher hit his head on a rock and suffered a serious head injury. For the last four months, Schumi has been in a state of induced coma, as doctors try to wrestle him back to health. The last couple of weeks have seen some good news filter in, as he has reportedly shown some signs of consciousness. By all accounts, he’s been as much of a fighter in real life as he was on the track.
Schumacher began his F1 racing career around a time when fatalities were still common in Formula One. In fact, Schumacher has witnessed tragedy right in front of his eyes. In just his fourth season, at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, he was driving right behind triple-world champion Ayrton Senna when Senna collided head-on with a barrier and died almost immediately after impact. That he escaped major accidents throughout his 19-year racing career, only to be the victim of a freak ski accident, is truly astonishing.
To say the least, Schumacher changed the way Formula One is perceived the world over. He single-handedly made Ferrari a force to be reckoned with again in the Constructor’s standings. In his heyday years from 2000 to 2004, Schumacher redefined the meaning of dominance in the sport, winning five continuous championships, and setting a record for most races won in a five-year period. His 2004 season was particularly magnificent, when he won a record 12 of the first 13 races, only failing to finish at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix because of an accident with Juan Pablo Montoya.
Schumacher’s ultra-aggressive driving style and scant respect for his competitors meant Formula One during his active years was never devoid of entertainment. Often, Schumacher found himself at the center of controversies, and at the receiving end of the ire of a number of his fellow racers. Nonetheless, his charisma meant that in the eyes of a number of fans, he transcended the racetrack, and was often accorded superstar status on his travels.
Schumacher retired from Formula One for the first time at the end of the 2006 season, after a number of car reliability problems prevented him from realistically competing for a record eighth World Championship. Schumi stayed on as an advisor to Ferrari, but for the most part, he stayed away from the public eye. However, after a quiet couple of years, a number of rumors surfaced that he would be returning, and in Dec. 2009 it was formally announced that he would be making a comeback in the 2010 season with Mercedes. The comeback, however, did not go as well as intended, and the next three years were only punctuated by moments of brilliance; for the most part, he was handsomely outraced by his teammate, Nico Rosberg.
All things said, Schumacher left an incredible legacy to Formula One, not only on the race track but off it as well. Now, he needs to show the resilience and desire that characterized his driving style to win one more time. It’s a race that everyone wants him to win. Stay strong, Schumi. We need you back.