Michael Schumacher: The six biggest controversial moments of his F1 career
Michael Schumacher’s 18 full seasons on the Formula 1 grid included everything from prestigious World titles to a villain tag he could never shrug off.
But then again, he did very little to try.
A record-setter, a flawed genius, a legend, a cheat. Schumacher was all that, it all depended where your allegiances lay.
PlanetF1.com looks at the seven-time World Champion’s six biggest controversial moments.
1994 British Grand Prix
How ironic that Schumacher’s first championship-winning season was also his annus horribilis. 1994 was the season that set him on the course to become a multiple World Champion, and also the season in which his reputation suffered its first dents.
It began at the 1994 British Grand Prix, the Benetton driver having arrived on the grid with six wins in seven races and a 37-point advantage over Damon Hill in the Drivers’ standings.
Hill won the race with Schumacher second, only for the German to be disqualified for failing to serve a stop-go penalty that was issued on lap 14 of the race when the stewards declared he had overtaken Hill twice on the earlier formation lap.
Schumacher continued as if nothing had happened which resulted in the driver being shown the black flag. Again he ignored the race officials with Benetton claiming confusion. The stewards didn’t buy that and handed Benetton a $25,000 fine.
That become a $500,000 fine when the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council got involved. Taking a dim view on the team and driver’s behaviour, they also handed Schumacher a two-race ban. Benetton appealed the latter and Schumacher was allowed to race.
That, though, turned out to be his first of two DSQs for the season as the German was also disqualified from the Belgian Grand Prix, although this one was not on him.
Schumacher won the race by 13 seconds ahead of Hill but was subsequently disqualified when the stewards’ post-race inspection found excessive wear on the wooden skid block on the underside of his car.
1994 Australian Grand Prix
Despite two disqualifications, Schumacher’s antics were by no mean curtailed. If you ask Hill they actually stepped up a gear at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix.
The two went into the final race of the championship with the Benetton driver on 92 points to the Williams man’s 91 – not quite winner takes all, but close enough.
Nigel Mansell lined up on pole position ahead of the title protagonists but Schumacher was quickly up into P1, Hill right behind him. They raced 1-2 through to lap 36 where, with Hill catching Schumacher, the latter made a mistake.
Off the track at the East Terrace corner, Schumacher hit the wall before pulling back onto the track and, more notably, across the track. Hill tried to pass him but the two collided, both drivers retiring as a result.
#OnThisDay in 1994 the Season came to a conclusion, where Schumacher won the first of his Seven titles. Hill & Schumacher famously collided at T6 at Adelaide, Mansell’s final victory of his career as a result in the shadow. #F1 #Schumacher #Hill pic.twitter.com/DM3ygZIW6k
— ThePitCrewOnline © (@PitCrew_Online) November 13, 2021
Schumacher won the title by a single point and while Hill initially didn’t pass judgement, in later years he said: “I nearly won the Championship but we collided. There was some confusion on my part because I didn’t know his car was damaged, I just thought he was weaving and I did a clumsy move.
“If I knew he was damaged I would have just let him park the car and given him a wave, but that’s not how it happened.”
1997 European Grand Prix
Swapping Benetton for Ferrari, it turned out to be a case of new team same Schumacher when, in his second season in red, he again went into a season finale grand prix with a slim one-point advantage in the Drivers’ standings.
This time his opponent was Jacques Villeneuve, who claimed pole position in a qualifying hour in which the top three – Villeneuve, Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen all set identical lap times. But as Villeneuve was the first to clock the 1:21.072 he started on pole position ahead of Schumacher.
Schumacher made the better start and took the lead into the first corner and was a second up on Villeneuve as they began lap 48 of the grand prix. Closing on Schumacher, the Canadian tried to overtake into the Dry Sac corner and had the inside line only for Schumacher to turn in on him.
The right-front wheel of Schumacher’s Ferrari hit the left side of Villeneuve’s Williams, the German retiring as a result of the damage. Villeneuve, despite reporting that his car “felt very strange”, was able to continue and finished third.
He scored enough points to win the World title on merit, 81 to Schumacher’s 78, with the Ferrari driver later summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the FIA. Schumacher was disqualified from the championship, losing his P2 in the standings, but was allowed to retain his other stats such as race wins and pole positions.
To date Schumacher remains the only driver to be disqualified from the Drivers’ Championship in F1 history.
2002 Austrian Grand Prix
Schumacher was a man on a mission in 2002 as he looked to secure his third successive Drivers’ Championship title with Ferrari, and equal the record for the most titles ever with his fifth.
He won four of the season’s first five races, but was running second behind his team-mate Rubens Barrichello at race six, the Austrian Grand Prix.
Ferrari, led at the time by Jean Todt, ordered Barrichello to slow down to hand Schumacher the win. The Brazilian, as expected unhappy with the situation, did so on the very last lap and at the very last corner.
Schumacher won by 0.182s, the driver booed by the fans as he took to the podium. As the discontent grew he urged Barrichello to climb onto the top step of the podium but that did little to appease the fans. It also angered the FIA, who not only banned team orders but fined Ferrari for transgressing the podium regulations.
Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barichello on the podium following the controversial Austrian GP in 2002 #F1 #F1History pic.twitter.com/ql4LDu4BHT
— F1 History (@F1History1) January 4, 2015
The Scuderia and the drivers were hit with a $1 million fine, split between the team and the two drivers. They only had to pay half, the other half suspended for a year on the condition a similar offence did not occur.
It was a Ferrari call, but it was once again Schumacher’s legacy that took the hit.
2006 Monaco Grand Prix
Up against Fernando Alonso for the 2006 World title, Schumacher was determined to regain the crown he lost to the Spaniard in 2005.
So determined he “parked” his car at Rascasse in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, a move designed to block Alonso from putting in a final hot lap.
With Alonso 15 points ahead after six races, Schumacher had some catching up to do in the standings and seemingly tried to scupper his Spanish rival’s qualifying session.
On top of the timesheet with a 1:13.898, in the dying moments of that Saturday afternoon’s session the Ferrari driver “locked up the front and went wide” at the penultimate corner and came to a stop blocking the track.
That meant Alonso, with a 1:13.962 on the board, wasn’t able to complete his final flying lap.
It was, however, quickly declared a deliberate act by the stewards – “completely unjustifiable” – and the driver was punished by having his lap times deleted, sending him to the very back of the grid.
Former F1 driver Keke Rosberg said of the incident: “It was the cheapest, dirtiest thing I have ever seen in F1. He should leave F1 and go home.”
As it turned out Schumacher did, retiring from Formula 1 at the end of the 2006 season. He was, however, back on the grid three years later with Mercedes.
#OTD Michael Schumacher disqualified after blocking Alonso's final lap at Rascasse. Demoted with P22 with Massa (2006 Monaco) #F1 pic.twitter.com/3qcxKQmZK8
— Motorsports in the 2000s 🇭🇰🇬🇧 (@CrystalRacing) May 26, 2017
2010 Hungarian Grand Prix
Returning to the Formula 1 grid after three years in retirement, Schumacher lined up for Mercedes with his former team-mate Barrichello racing for Williams.
Running tenth at the Hungaroring, Schumacher was on course for the final points-paying position but Barrichello was closing fast on the super-soft tyres having gone with a late final pit stop.
The Brazilian tried to make a pass down the main straight but Schumacher shut the door. Squeezing Barrichello into the wall, the Williams driver nearly hit the concrete wall at 200mph.
Still able to outpace Schumacher and take the position, he was also fortunate not to touch the grass which would have pitched him into a spin. Barrichello immediately called for a black flag for his former team-mate, saying that move was “horrible”. Schumacher was investigated by the stewards for dangerous driving, hit with a 10-place grid penalty for the following race in Belgium.
Barrichello said at the time: “I am lucky to be alive. It was a go-kart manoeuvre. If he wants to go to heaven, in the event he is going to heaven, I don’t want to go before him. Thank God, I was lucky the wall finished where it did because I was millimetres from it.”
Former F1 driver Derek Warwick, a steward at the race, wanted to disqualifying the German as he felt it would have “shown a better example to our young drivers. But by the time we got the video evidence we ran out of time and we had to do it retrospectively.”
Schumacher later apologised, but it was yet another transgression on a long list that even saw one of his moves, swinging across the track at the start of a race to block a rival driver, dubbed the ‘Schumi chop’.