He knew what the question was going to be. He was already smiling thinking about it. And when he started speaking, the joy he felt at that moment seemed almost contagious.
On August 30, 1992, Michael Schumacher registered his first ever win in Formula One. On the famous Spa Francorchamps circuit where he had made his debut in 1991 as a replacement driver, the German star registered the first of his 91 F1 wins. The start of a legend, so to speak.
That it happened at the very venue where he got his breakthrough in Formula One a year back made it all the more special. In the middle of the season, when Bertrand Gachot got himself in trouble due to an altercation with a London taxi driver, Eddie Jordan’s rookie F1 team needed an alternative driver. And out of nowhere (and by some clever off-track dealings as it turned out), a young German was thrust into the limelight.
He responded with a sensational qualifying performance to grab seventh place but his race lasted only a few minutes. But he had done enough to catch the F1 world’s attention and soon moved to Benetton where his journey with Ross Brawn began. Schumacher won five of his seven titles and gained 72 of his 91 victories with Ferrari while the other two were won with Benetton but through it all, the common factor was the British mastermind.
And so, after earning the first of his 155 podium finishes in Mexico, Schumacher arrived at the scene of his debut, hopeful of his first win. The first win would have come eventually in his career of course, but the day it became true, it was actually an indirect result of a mistake he made on the track.
Known for his efficient driving skills, Schumacher’s first victory in F1 might not have happened if he did not miss a turn, drive on the greens and make a pit stop to clean his tyres. That’s when the masterstroke happened.
And according to the Formula One website, this race showcased Schucmacher’s tactical nous as much as his driving skills:
“Running in third place at the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix – just his 18th start in Formula 1 – Schumacher slewed off the track at Stavelot on lap 29 of 44, allowing his Benetton team mate Martin Brundle past into third place.
“Rather than wasting energy ruing the error, Schumacher clocked the blistering on Brundle’s rear tyres after falling in behind him and immediately came into the pits for fresh slicks. It was a decision that was two laps shrewder than the leading Williams runners, allowing Schumacher to take the lead from Nigel Mansell on lap 34 and check out for his maiden win, the first for a German in F1 since 1975.”
That tyre change proved inspirational for Schumacher and Benetton as the first steps towards greatness were taken that August day in Belgium at a track which would become closely associated with his career. No F1 racer has won at the circuit more than Schumacher.
Most successful F1 drivers at Spa (Belgian GP)
|Juan Manuel Fangio||6||3||4|
“I really can’t describe it I. mean it is something crazy,” Schumacher said, his pride evident at the post-race press conference.
“But I really have to say in the whole weekend I felt that we were quite good and I don’t know why, but when I was in the motorhome today I thought I’m able to win this race. Then when I was actually in the race I was just in the third and fourth position and I thought ‘oh, I think my dream doesn’t come up’ (today).
“And then suddenly the situation changed, I went in for dry tires and it was absolutely at the right moment and I could win the race. I’m really happy that I didn’t win the race because of accidents or somebody had a problem with their car. I really won this race by myself and by the team. Everybody did a fantastic job.”
Schuamcher, of course, went on dominate F1 like no one else before him did. After his two titles at Benetton, years of dominance ensued at Ferrari. Despite a not so enjoyable return to the sport, Schumacher’s legacy as an F1 legend is unquestionable and it all began on that rainy day in Belgium.
Years later, Schumacher would reveal that his quest for greatness was driven mostly by scepticism.
“Records are one thing. Doubts, I think it is very important to not be over-confident, to be sceptical, to look for improvements and the next step. I always felt I wasn’t good enough and I needed to work on myself. That was one of the recipes that made me what I became,” he said in an interview recorded not long before his skiing accident in 2013.
Indeed, behind that happy and confident facade that he put on, Schumacher drove himself forward by believing he could always get better. Ninety-one race wins and seven World Championship titles stand proof.
You can watch highlights of the first of Schumacher’s 91 Formula One victories here:
Bonus viewing: Watch 10 best moments from Schumacher’s career (where his 1992 Belgian GP features, of course) here.