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Friday, 22 August 2014

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER AT SPA - MEMORIES FROM THE PAST

Michael Schumacher making his debut in 1991 Belgian GP 
If there is one place I wish to be this weekend, it has to be Spa in Belgium. The Formula One post the summer break commences here and one of my dreams is yet to be fulfilled. Maybe, next year!
My favourite circuit in F1 and my favourite driver had many tales; with each race being a chapter of a romantic book. Every race had something to offer for the fans and there was never a dull moment when Schumacher was driving around Spa.

Growing up this circuit provided some of the outstanding races I had witnessed or read. The one that comes to my mind is the overtaking of Mika Hakkinen over Michael Schumacher with Ricardo Zonta in between. That was a breathtaking manoeuvre!

People who have followed F1 since twenty years will remember a young German making his debut in 1991 with Jordan. To put it simply, he was lucky to have got the drive at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. It was possible due to the untimely arrest of the then Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot - who was taken over by the London police for spraying CS gas after an altercation with the cab driver. This paved the way for Michael Schumacher. He never raced at Spa before and all he managed to do was cycle around the circuit before the qualifying and started the race from seventh! and that said it all.

To manage a seventh place in a circuit which demands skill, concentration and talent, it was clearly evident Michael Schumacher was here to stay. He was not that lucky to complete a lap in the race and had to retire owing to a clutch failure. But he had done enough to secure a seat with Benetton from the very next race. And the rest is...... 


1st of his 91 victories - 1992 Belgian GP 
A year's wait and finally he was on the top step of the podium. The 1992 Belgian GP turned out be his 1st of 91 victories in F1. He came agonisingly close to finish on top in 1993; in 1994 he was disqualified for gaining an illegal aerodynamic advantage after having finished 1st. The post race scrutiny went against and he was stripped off the victory as his Benetton was found to have excessive wear on the car's skid block.



94 Belgian GP - His first place was stripped
A 10mm wooden plank was placed to the underside of every car to reduce ground effect advantages, whilst also forcing an increase in ride height. The wear on the plank up to 1mm was permitted by the end of the race. Quite simply, Michael Schumacher's Benetton had wear in excess of 1 mm. For F1 enthusiasts, it is interesting to note that - this rule is applicable even today.


1995 Belgian GP 

The romance with the circuit would continue as he claimed three more victories in a row from 1995 to 1997.


1996 Belgian GP 
In 1998, he looked set to claim his 5th Belgian GP title. In extreme wet weather conditions, he and David Coulthard had a contact which damaged Michael Schumacher's car and had to retire from the race. He was furious and was made to sit down with DC for close to two hours before they were seen shaking hands in public and for Michael Schumacher to move on.

Post the collision with DC at the 1998 Belgian GP 

And the miss - Michael Schumacher missed the bulk of second half of the 1999 season after he crashed rather nastily at the Becketts Complex corner in Silverstone. And this meant, he did not start the 1999 edition at Spa-Francorchamps. Mika Hakkinen and his McLaren took the first place in 2000 in which Michael Schumacher had to settle for second. 

Stunning overtake by Mika Hakkinen at 2000 Belgian GP

With having his 4th World Championships at the 2001 Hungarian GP, the next race at Belgium was eagerly expected by all to see if he would break Alain Prost's record.

World Record - 2001 Belgian GP

Ferrari was unstoppable in those times and his victory, the 52nd was a world record and by winning those 10 points he also moved past Alain Prost to record most points by an F1 driver (769 at the end of the race). This was Schumacher's fifth win at Spa and he would add one more to the tally in 2002. 

The Belgian Grand Prix was removed from the 2003 season (still cannot understand, how they allowed it to happen!) and finished second at the 2004 season as a result of which he claimed his seventh and his last World Championship.

The 2005 season was a nightmare for Ferrari especially after having dominated the scene for six years in a row. Michael Schumacher ended his race - his last for Ferrari at Spa was a DNF (Did Not Finish) as the Spa-Francorchamps did not feature in 2006.

In the last three races in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with Mercedes, Michael Schumacher only managed to finish 7th, 5th and 7th respectively.

2011 Belgian GP with Eddy Merckx 
Spa as a circuit has a special place in every F1 enthusiast's heart. Ask anyone who has a decent knowledge in F1 about his favourite three circuits, I would be surprised if Spa doesn't get a mention. A public road in the off-season, this 7.004 km circuit (longest in F1 currently) is best known for its corners of varying speeds. Be it the Eau-Rouge, the erstwhile chicane called 'Bus Stop', the fastest corner in F1 Blanchimont, Les Combes, La Source, Stavelot and it goes on. The Ardennes region on the Eastern part of Belgium is also famous for its unpredictable weather conditions which always added its own flavour on the racing Sundays.

Along with the old Nürburgring circuit, Spa Francorchamps has always tested the drivers and is often seen as a ground in which the men are separated from the boys and the race has been part of the calendar since 1950 (barring few races in other circuits and few cancellations). It is no wonder, only a World champion has won this event more than once. And no surprises to see the top two drivers who lead the pack are Michael Schumacher (6) and Ayrton Senna (5).


Someday I will visit the track and relive all those memories that are dear to me and till then...........