Winning 91 of the 306 grands prix he started, Michael Schumacher was both lauded and condemned for his ruthlessness on the race-track with the seven-time World Champion polarising public opinion.
But whether fans loved or loathed him, the German knew how to win a grand prix and did so with an average of almost one victory every three races.
PlanetF1.com looks at the Formula 1 legend’s ten most iconic races on his 55th birthday (January 3, 2024).
1992 Belgian Grand Prix: First victory
Arriving on the Formula 1 grid for a one-off appearance for Jordan at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, it was quickly apparent to everyone in the paddock that Schumacher was something special as he qualified P7 – only for his clutch to fail. Before team boss Eddie Jordan could even speak to him about his future, Benetton team boss Flavio Briatore had snapped up the German.
1992 marked his first full season in the sport with Schumacher securing his maiden race win at none other than the venue of his debut outing, Spa. Qualifying third, he was running up in third place only to make a mistake and run wide, forcing him into the pits for new tyres.
Swapping his rain tyres for slicks, he set about putting in hot laps that meant when race leader Nigel Mansell pitted a few laps later it was Schumacher who ran P1. Mansell tried to close the gap but was undone by a misfiring engine.
That allowed Schumacher to build a lead, the 23-year-old taking the victory by 36.5s ahead of the Williams driver. It was, it’s easy to say in hindsight, a sign of things to come.
1994 Brazilian Grand Prix: Lapped the entire field
The 1994 season was the first year in which Schumacher went from race winner to World Champion, recording eight wins in 14 races with 10 podiums in total.
But it was that year’s Brazilian Grand Prix that was by far the most impressive on the year’s list as he lapped the entire field. In a race in which 26 cars started, 12 finished and Schumacher lapped every one of his rivals.
It was a Sunday of Schumacher versus Ayrton Senna, round one of the championship, with the Brazilian holding the advantage in the early stages. Running nose-to-tail as they prepared for the first round of pit stops, Schumacher got the jump on the Williams with a faster stop.
A high-speed crash involving Eddie Irvine and Martin Brundle midway through the race reduced the field to 13 by lap 40. And all the while Schumacher and Senna pulled away with Schumacher lapping his rivals one by one.
He didn’t need to worry about Senna, the Williams driver losing the rear of his Williams and retiring his car. Just 12 remained, Damon Hill up in P2 by already a lap down on Schumacher. The Benetton driver romped to the victory, the first 10 points of the year towards his maiden Drivers’ Championship trophy.
1995 Belgian Grand Prix: Master of Spa
Qualifying down in 16th place in a wet-dry qualifying session, Schumacher had it all to do at the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix.
The race began in the dry with the drivers on the slick tyre, with Schumacher working his way up to fourth place by lap 10, a combination of retirements from those ahead and some epic overtakes. He was soon up in second place behind Damon Hill and took the lead for the first time on lap 26 when the rain came down, Hill pitting for wets but Schumacher opting to stay out.
Hill rapidly caught Schumacher but the German initially managed to keep him behind only to lose the race lead when he ran off the track in the wet. But with the rain having abated, Schumacher, still on slick tyres, again closed up Hill and retook P1 with the Briton having to pit again for slicks.
The rain returned to the circuit, this time both drivers in for wet tyres with Schumacher back out on track just ahead. The grandstand finish that fans wanted didn’t materialise as Hill was caught for speeding in the pit lane and had to serve a ten-second stop-go penalty.
Schumacher raced unchallenged to the line, 19s ahead of the Williams driver.
1995 European Grand Prix: One of F1’s best-ever overtakes
The European Grand Prix was staged in Germany at the Nurburgring where Schumacher beat Jean Alesi to extend his lead in the Drivers’ standings to 27 points.
In what was billed by many as one of the best events of the season with Schumacher fighting Hill earlier in the race, it was his and Alesi’s late-race battle that set the race up brilliantly.
Closing in on Alesi after his second pit stop of the day, Schumacher used his fresher tyres to close the gap lap by lap before sitting on the Ferrari driver’s rear wing with just a handful of laps remaining.
He made his first move on lap 65 as he went up the inside of the Ferrari, drawing alongside him, although Alesi still had the pace to stay ahead. Later that lap Schumacher tried another move, this time around the outside at the approach to the chicane before easing ahead on the inside. Alesi had no choice but to leave him room or risk a crash.
The rest, as they say, was history as Schumacher stormed to the win, arguably one of his best ever.
1996 Spanish Grand Prix: The best of the Reinmeister
Think Schumacher and rain and most people go straight to Spa, the circuit said to be the German’s living room. But it was in Spain at the Circuit de Catalunya where the German, having joined Ferrari at the start of the year, put in one of his best wet-weather drives.
Starting P3 in the pouring rain, Schumacher lost a few places at the start due to a clutch issue but quickly set about recovering. As several drivers including Giancarlo Fisichella crashed, Schumacher worked his way up to sixth place and then fifth as his team-mate Eddie Irvine retired.
As others slipped and slid off the track, Schumacher overtook Jean Alesi to run second, and then Jacques Villeneuve to lead the European Grand Prix on lap 13. With just another pass up the inside such was his level of grip that others couldn’t find, he went P1.
Pulling away from Alesi, who also overtook Villeneuve, Schumacher took the win by 45s over the Benetton driver. On a day when only six drivers finished, he lapped them all except Alesi and Villeneuve.
1998 British Grand Prix: Winning in the pit lane
Whether you agree with how this race was won, it was still won by Schumacher and in the most extraordinary circumstances.
Mika Hakkinen lead Schumacher by some 50 seconds in worsening conditions at the Silverstone circuit when the McLaren driver went spinning, damaging his front wing. With other drivers also flying off the circuit, Race Control brought out the Safety Car and there went Hakkinen’s advantage in its entirety.
The race restarted on lap 50 with Schumacher quick to capitalise on another mistake from the Flying Finn to grab the lead. He, as he often did, began to eke out an advantage and was sailing his way towards the race win.
Then came the start of the controversy. With two laps remaining Schumacher was hit with a 10-second penalty for overtaking Alex Wurz under the earlier Safety Car. Ferrari were perplexed as to whether it was a stop-go penalty or if the 10-seconds would be added to his time.
Brawn called him in at the end of the very last lap of the race with Schumacher crossing the finish line in the pit lane to win the race.
This lead to confusion as to whether he’d taken his stop-go, with the FIA’s International Court of Appeal getting involved as Ferrari argued the rules state the penalty should be awarded within 25 minutes of the infraction, the stewards took 31.
The penalty was rescinded altogether, leading to a protest from McLaren. That was rejected by the FIA and Schumacher’s British GP win went down as the first – and still today only – win with the driver was in the pit lane.
1998 Hungarian Grand Prix: Pit stop festival
Another one that belongs in the Ross Brawn column as the Ferrari technical director came up with the strategy that gave Schumacher the best chance of beating the McLaren drivers to the victory.
He only had to put in 19 qualifying-esque laps to do it.
Stuck behind Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult, Brawn realised a two-stop strategy wasn’t going to work, he needed three stops from Schumacher.
Coming in on lap 46 for his second stop, and in the days of refuelling, Schumacher was stationary for all of 6.8s which raised eyebrows up and down the pit lane.
Brawn uttered one of the most famous lines in Formula 1 to his driver: “Michael, you have 19 laps to pull out 25 seconds. We need 19 qualifying laps from you.”
Schumacher replied: “Thank you.”
Despite becoming aware of Ferrari’s alternate strategy, McLaren banked on their two-stopper. What they didn’t bank on was Schumacher’s pace as he put in hot lap after another. His efforts were aided by car problems for Hakkinen, so much so that McLaren told him to give the position to his team-mate Coulthard. That order, though, took six laps to come through and that too gave Schumacher more hope.
But he was just 11s ahead of Coulthard when McLaren made the swap, still needing a gap of 14. He did it, laying down one qualifying lap after the other at an average of 1.8s per lap faster than Coulthard.
Such was his pace that even when he pitted for the third time, he came out P1 and won the race by 9.4s! It was a masterclass from both Schumacher and Brawn.
2000 Japanese Grand Prix: First Ferrari title
In his fifth season as a Ferrari driver, and after two championship podiums and one disqualification, Schumacher finally achieved the ultimately goal for the Scuderia – the Drivers’ World Championship title.
And he did it with his eighth of nine wins in the 2000 season.
Going into the race Schumacher held an eight-point advantage over the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen, the two-time reigning World Champion.
It was the Flying Finn who had pole position with Schumacher lining up in second place and, some would say, up to his usual shenanigans as he flew across the track, pushing Hakkinen towards the pit lane wall. But the McLaren driver held firm to lead the race.
Although he initially pulled away from Schumacher, the Ferrari driver closed the gap by lap 31 and by delaying his second stop he was able to get the jump on Hakkinen in the latest round of pit stops. Schumacher took the race win by 1.8s and in doing so wrapped up his first World title as a Ferrari driver, the Scuderia’s first since 1979.
Race wins and World titles became a regular reward for Schumacher after that, the German stringing together a run of five Drivers’ Championships from 2000 to 2004.
2004 Japanese Grand Prix: Record 13th for the season
Schumacher clinched his 13th win of the championship at the Japanese Grand Prix having started from pole position in a postponed qualifying session.
A powerful typhoon struck Japan, forcing F1 organisers to hold qualifying on the Sunday morning but the change in timetable didn’t bother Schumacher, the German taking pole position ahead of his brother Ralf.
In sunny and dry conditions the race was by no means extraordinary as the reigning World Champion crossed the finish line 14 seconds up on his brother. But what was unbelievable, at least at the time, was that it was Schumacher’s 13th win of the season, a new record for the most wins in a single season.
That was subsequently matched by Sebastian Vettel before Max Verstappen broke the record in 2022 as he recorded 15 P1s…and then broke it again the following year with a whopping 19.
2006 Chinese Grand Prix: The final win
Despite announcing at Monza that the 2006 season would be his last in Formula 1, Schumacher continued to battle Fernando Alonso for the World title.
Clinching the race win at the Italian Grand Prix, he went into the next race, the Chinese Grand Prix, trailing the Renault driver by two points with three races remaining.
Schumacher only managed the sixth fastest time in qualifying while Alonso put his car up on pole position. The German had a lot to do come Sunday’s 56-lap race.
Despite heavy rain falling before the start of the race, the wet track favouring the Michelin runners over Schumacher’s Bridgestone tyres, he worked his way up to third place by lap 14, although was almost 30 seconds behind Alonso.
Closing in on the Spaniard with Giancarlo Fisichella a buffer between the two title protagonists, Fisichella overtook Alonso and so too did Schumacher before the Ferrari driver also passed the Renault after they stopped for dry tyres.
From there Schumacher didn’t look back, taking the race win by three seconds ahead of Alonso to tie Alonso in points.
Little did anyone know that it would be his last P1 as he retired in Japan and could only manage P4 in Brazil.
He bid farewell to Formula 1 (at least for next three years) with a runner-up result in the championship, the mantle well and truly passed onto the next generation.