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The greatest driver of all timeby Sapa 
Posted on 11 September 2006

Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in Formula One history, having written almost every available record behind his name, but despite his accomplishments on the race track he has never enjoyed the wolehearted adulation of all F1 fans.

Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Sunday after winning the Italian Grand Prix, was often seen as too ambitious and aloof to capture the hearts of fans and peers the way other Formula One champions did, but he got the respect he deserved for his racing, even if grudgingly. Schumacher's dedication to racing was complete. Driven by desire for perfection, he sometimes overstepped the rules.

"He is definitely the most complete driver in Formula One in my opinion," Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa said.

Many saw him as a cold, calculating champion who made few friends on the circuit and who did not hesitate to drive a rival off the track to secure victory.

When his mother died in April 2003, Schumacher won the San Marino Grand Prix hours later.

The 37-year-old Schumacher closely guarded his privacy and usually avoided the Formula One party circuit, apart from some boisterous celebrations of his seven championships.

Back home in Germany at least, Schumacher commanded a large army of fans, who would take vacations to attend races, camping in tents and trailers in rain and shine to see him drive.

Former champion Niki Lauda, an Austrian who also spent time at Ferrari, predicted that few tears would be shed for Schumacher's departure from racing.

"Many have come and gone in Formula One. No one loses any tears over it," Lauda said. "If Michael decides not to drive anymore, then the most successful driver of all time with seven world championships is stepping down. There will be praise and assessments of the man who defined Formula One in recent years and who was the greatest driver. Full stop. Life goes on. In Germany, the interest will fall off."

When he began his career at Benetton, the Germans became Benetton fans. When he switched to Ferrari, they dumped the blue colors and put on the Ferrari red. Once a fringe sport, Formula One became hugely popular in Germany, with expensive VIP lounges and hundreds of thousands of fans attending racing weekends. Schumacher remained popular there even when he moved to Switzerland to avoid Germany's high taxes, but he would never be an icon comparable to Franz Beckenbauer or Boris Becker.

Schumacher, whose younger brother Ralf is also a Formula One driver, became one of the best paid sportsmen in the world. He was born Jan. 3, 1969, in Kerpen, near Cologne, into a family of modest means. His father operated the local kart track and Michael was an early visitor. By six, he had won his first kart championship. Sponsors recognised his talent, allowing him to progress.

By 1987 he was German and European kart champion and had left school to work as an apprentice car mechanic, a job that was soon replaced by full-time employment as a race driver. In 1990, he won the German Formula Three championship and was hired by Mercedes to drive sports cars. The next year he made a stunning Formula One debut, qualifying an astonishing seventh in a Jordan for the Belgian Grand Prix, and was immediately snapped up by Benetton. In 1992, he won his first Formula One race, again at the Belgian GP. The career was launched.

Schumacher won 18 races and two world championships for Benetton over the next four seasons - but there was also the first blemish when he drove into his closest challenger Damon Hill at the Australian Grand Prix. The 1994 crash assured Schumacher of his first title and many thought he had deliberately caused the accident that ended Hill's challenge.

Germany's first Formula One champion moved to Ferrari at the start of the 1996 season, in what later proved to be a perfect marriage of German precision and Italian flair. Ferrari was floundering at the time, without a champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979. Its inept pit stops were sometimes the laughing stock of the circuit.

Schumacher won three races in his first year, then five more in 1997, but when he tried unsuccessfully to ram Jacques Villeneuve off the track, the FIA stepped in and Schumacher was stripped of his second place.

He finished second overall in 1998, but Schumacher's 1999 season was interrupted by a crash at Silverstone where he broke a leg, keeping him out of action for several races.

In 2000, Schumacher became Ferrari's first champion in 21 years, then went on to win the driving title for the next four years in succession. In 2002, he won 11 of the 17 races and finished on the podium in all of them. In 2004, he won 13 of the 18 races and won his seventh championship by a massive margin.

Formula One's bosses changed the rules in 2005, partly in an effort to dent Ferrari's dominance and make the series more interesting. Ferrari failed to master the changes and Fernando Alonso became the youngest champion driving for Renault.

Schumacher has won 90 grands prix in his 15-year career and finished in the top three 153 times - more than any other driver in the history of the series. He had 68 pole positions.

"Michael has achieved a lot. The numbers speak for themselves," Toyota driver Jarno Trulli said.

Click here for more columns from this author

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    Sapa ::
    The greatest driver of all time
    Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in Formula One history, having written almost every available record behind his name, but despite his accomplishments on the race track he has never enjoyed the wolehearted adulation of all F1 fans.

    sports poll
    Now that Michael Schumacher is retiring at the end of the year, what do you think should he do in 2007?
    Stay at home with his wife and children.
    Become Ferrari team manager.
    Become an ambassador for Formula One.
    Become an ambassador for UNESCO.
    Join McLaren and race against Alonso for free.
    Go back to Ferrari for one last year and beat Kimi.
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