Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio and Niki Lauda all of whom have the cemented the legacy of the Ferrari formula 1 team during the 1950s to the late 1970s. And fighting rivals on track have established the prancing horses sheer speed and dominance. But this success would only lay the foundation of a golden age that would make the team from Maranello a force to be reckoned with.
And Ferrari would have their golden age established by the seven-time world champion we all know as Michael Schumacher.
It took five years for the pairing of Ferrari and Schumacher to formulate, but that did not stop Michael from achieving 19 wins and two drivers’ championship in 1994 and 1995. As his efforts did not go unrecognised when Ferrari signed the German driver on a $30 million contract in the middle of the 1995 Formula 1 world championship season. Not only was it a challenge for Michael to fulfil one of the most coveted seats in Formula 1 but also Ferrari, as they had not won a world drivers’ championship since Jody Scheckter in 1979.
And to top it all off, Michael’s departure from Benetton in 1996 encouraged most of the staff to join Schumacher at Ferrari a year later, that includes technical director Ross Brawn and Chief designer Rory Byrne. While the recipe for a team with such high-quality members laid the foundation of the team, their success would not come straight away.
Ferrari’s A-list team would be put through the test between 1996-1999, battling the likes of Williams’, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve and McLarens’ Mika Häkkinen.
1996 was the year, Ferrari showed potential in winning future world championships, as Michael’s first year would see the German achieve, three race wins and five podium finishes. As Schumacher ended 1996 third in the drivers’ championship, 19 points behind second place driver, Jacques Villeneuve and 38 points behind the drivers’ champion Damon Hill. Resulting in Ferrari trailing by 70 points from Williams in 1996.
1997 would see the German undergo controversial circumstances at the final round of world championship in Jerez. The championship clash would see Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve go hammer and tong at the final round of the championship. During this anticipated final race Villeneuve tried to overtake Schumacher by lap 48. The Frenchman had the inside line at the Dry Sac corner after he braked later than the German, but experienced a slight delay when Schumacher turned into him at the corner, and his right front wheel was linked to the sidepod of the Williams car. This resulted in Schumacher retiring on the spot. Villeneuve earned four points and took the title in 1997.
However, this would result in Schumacher being reprimanded by the FIA for causing a avoidable collision and being disqualified from 1997 world championship entirely.
But despite the controversy, Ferrari’s potential for world championships was continuing to grow, as Schumacher delivered five race wins and three podiums.
1998 and would see Ferrari and Schumacher go toe-to-toe with the team from Woking that is McLaren and their Finnish driver, Mika Häkkinen. This season of the championship would see Michael and Mika tied on points going to the Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Despite Schumacher's best efforts, Hakkinen manages to beat him in a straight fight. There was no challenge for Häkkinen in Japan, where the Finn won easily without any opposition from Schumacher who stalled out on the grid and eventually had to retire from a blown tire later in the race after stalling out on the grid. McLaren was crowned Constructors’ Champions for the eighth time and Häkkinen won his first world championship.
But Ferrari’s competitive spirit did not stop there. In 1999, it was round two as Ferrari and McLaren go head-to-head once again. But the German chances took a huge plunge after breaking his leg at the Silverstone Grand Prix, resulting in Schumacher having to miss six rounds of the world championship. So already Michael’s chances at world championship in 1999 had diminished. But it did not stop his teammate Eddie Irvine by putting on spectacular show of racing all season, winning four races and five podiums, as the British driver came perilously close to winning the title, only two points behind Miki Häkkinen. But the success does not stop there. Eddie’s success that season crowned Ferrari as the constructor’s world champion by four points to McLaren and it was Ferrari’s first constructors’ championship since 1983.
Now Ferrari begin to show their true potential.
The year 2000, this was the third consecutive season in which Ferrari and McLaren engaged in a close battle. During the early part of the season, Schumacher was on a strong run, winning the first three races and dominating the first part of the season as McLaren experienced reliability problems. The German, however, would suffer from reliability issues as well, retiring after three consecutive races as both Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard closed the points gap back up. After winning two races in a row, Hakkinen stormed ahead of Schumacher to take a six-point advantage in the standings. But Ferrari would show their hand at the end of the season. Poised to win and had not won a driver’s title since 1995 Schumacher was hungry as ever. As the season came to an end, Schumacher was able to turn her season around by winning four races in a convincing manner, each of those races winning on pole position. There was a classic straight fight between Schumacher and Häkkinen at the end of the German Grand Prix in Japan, where Schumacher passed Häkkinen down the pit straight and then held on to the title.
Michael Schumacher the Formula 1 driver from Hürth, West Germany had won the drivers’ championship for Ferrari since Jody Scheckter drove for Ferrari in 1979. Schumacher had triumphed against the Finnish driver by 19 points and bought the constructors championship back to Maranello outscoring McLaren 18 points.
For Michael, winning a third drivers’ championship but winning in the scarlet Ferrari is an achievement of its own that any driver would dream of accomplishing. But for Michael Schumacher’s first world drivers’ championship with Ferrari, would be the start of something truly great.