Being known as the younger brother of a multiple Formula One World Champion is hardly the best motivation one needs while entering the same field, but Ralf Schumacher has had to live with that moniker for his entire racing career. He’s had his share of elation and glory, grief and resentment, and on the whole, his career has been an eventful yet largely unsatisfying one.
Born on 30th Jan 1975 near Cologne, Germany, Ralf Schumacher had a need for speed from a very early age, be it karting when he was three on his parent’s go-kart track, finishing runner up in the national karting series to graduating into the German Formula Three series by the age of 20. The following year, he won the Formula Nippon series and earned himself a spot in Team Jordan in 1997.
Schumacher completed two see-saw seasons for Jordan, earning three podium finishes but being forced to retire from almost half his races in that period. 11th and 10th place positions overall were a tad disappointing and he moved to Williams in 1999 to try and fulfill his potential. He spent six seasons there, starting off promisingly with the weak, obsolete Supertec engine, but then heavily under-achieving the following year despite the machine being upgraded and him being the senior driver at the team making him the third highest paid Formula One racer that year. The next three years from 2001-2003 were arguably the best of his career. He managed six wins and 14 podium finishes in this period. In 2002, he came fourth in the overall Drivers’ standings just behind his team mate Juan Pablo Montoya while BMW-Williams notched up two second place finishes in the Constructors’ championship as well.
In June, 2004, Schumacher was involved in a serious accident at the United States Grand Prix. Considered to be one of the most severe in all of motor racing history (the deceleration was measured at 78g), it resulted in a concussion and two minor fractures in his spinal column. There was a repeat of a very similar accident the following year as well.
The next year, Williams refused to meet his salary demands forcing him to sign a deal with Toyota. Three podium finishes in his three years with the team, was hardly just reward for Toyota who had high expectations of their new driver. His performances were largely under-par causing disgruntlement and frustration among the company and staff, who urged him to up his game or lose his seat. Schumacher announced he would be leaving Toyota at the end of the season despite earning the second highest salary in F1 at the time.
Amidst rumours that he would be joining McLaren, Scuderia Toro Rosso and ultimately Force India for the 2008 season, Schumacher announced his retirement from F1 after his bids to secure a spot failed and all the positions were filled by other drivers. In January 2008 he test drove for the Mercedes DTM team and the very next month signed up for them for the season.
Schumacher has had a tumultuous career, one that has promised much but delivered little. He’s lived in the shadow of his illustrious brother causing every failure to be scrutinized harder and every victory to be undermined. He goes out of F1 the same man he was when he entered the scene which is evident when he says ‘I am the same racer that has fun in motor sports and wants to compete with the best’. Hopefully, the DTM series will be his second coming.