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Michael Schumacher’s Love Affair With Belgium

SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM - AUGUST 30: Michael Schumacher of Germany and Mercedes GP attends the drivers press conference during previews to the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps on August 30, 2012 in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Today, millions of fans across the world are celebrating Michael Schumacher’s 54th birthday. To offer our own celebration of his incredible F1 career, we look back at Schumacher’s awesome record at Spa-Francorchamps.

Unique, brilliant, courageous, controversial. Michael Schumacher will always have his name indelibly stamped into Formula 1 history as one of its greatest-ever drivers. Just a few days after the ninth anniversary of his life-changing skiing accident in Switzerland, Schumacher turns 54 today, giving his fans cause to celebrate his life and career. One aspect of his career that shone brightly was his excellent record at Spa-Francorchamps and the subsequent connection he had with the circuit. Here, we are looking at all of Schumacher’s greatest Belgian Grand Prix moments.

An amazing start for Michael Schumacher – 1991

After Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot was imprisoned in England for spraying CS Gas in a London taxi driver’s face, the team was on the lookout for a replacement driver. They would eventually turn to Schumacher, then a sportscar driver with Sauber. Schumacher’s agent Willi Weber apparently gave assurances that his young rising star knew Spa well, but in reality, he had never driven the circuit before, his first lap being on an exploration day on his bicycle.

Whatever Schumacher learned on his modest two wheels was enough to see him qualify a brilliant 7th, ahead of his experienced team-mate Andrea de Cesaris. People were starting to sit up and notice this scarcely-heard-of youth, and on race day, he amazed everyone by jumping up into 5th by the first corner, but his race would last little over a few hundred yards down the road, due to clutch failure. But no matter, his performance would see him poached by Flavio Briatore and Benetton for the next race, beginning a partnership that would last for the next four years.

Birth of the “regenmeister” – 1992

A year later, Schumacher came of age in a brilliant wet weather drive to take his first Grand Prix win. Starting 3rd, Schumacher was wise in his tyre choice as it began to rain, making his decision after sliding off the circuit and observing the wear of the tyres on team-mate Martin Brundle’s car as it overtook him. He would eventually take the lead and win by over 35 seconds, ahead of the Williams cars of new World Champion Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese.

Win by force – 1995

Now reigning World Champion, Schumacher was in a strong position to retain his title as he arrived in Belgium, but changeable weather over the two days of qualifying would see him start a lowly 16th place. Schumacher quickly worked his way through the field, and with leading drivers Gerhard Berger, Jean Alesi and David Coulthard all retiring, it was down to another battle royale between himself and chief rival Damon Hill. Schumacher used his wet weather skill to hold-off Hill, and with the Brit forced to take a ten second penalty, Schumacher would clinch a famous win, albeit with a reprimand from the stewards for his forceful defence from Hill.

Sunday driver – 1997

Out of all of Schumacher’s six wins at Spa, his greatest of all would come in 1997. The weather would once again play a part, with a dry day quickly descending into a downpour less than an hour before the start. Ever a step ahead of the competition, Schumacher used the exploratory laps as the cars assembled on the grid to decide that the spare car – set up for intermediate conditions – would be his best option. The move paid dividends as he would take the lead on just the fifth lap – overtaking Jean Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve – after starting 3rd, and would be ahead by almost 20 seconds two laps later, stretching it by a whole minute after only twelve laps. The gap allowed Schumacher to take no further risks and cruise to a 26-second victory in what was one of his most dominant race performances.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdfqtyylVe0&t=104s

Seven up for Schumi – 2004

After a further two wins in 2001 and 2002 (in which he would set a then-new record for most wins in a season), Schumacher would complete his love affair with Spa by clinching his seventh World Championship after finishing 2nd behind Kimi Raikkonen.

Keep Fighting Michael

Featured Image Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

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