Next week’s Belgian Grand Prix will be the 300th race of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One career. The illustrious German will become only the second driver in history to reach this particular milestone, after Rubens Barrichello who has participated in 326 race weekends.
Schumacher’s achievements are the stuff of legend. He has amassed seven World Drivers’ Championships, 91 race victories, 155 podiums, 68 pole positions, 77 fastest laps and 1546 points in a career that has spanned 21 years (including a break from 2007 to 2009).
That Schumacher’s 300th race should be in Belgium is appropriate. His remarkable career began at Spa back in 1991, where he qualified an astonishing seventh in a Jordan before retiring on the opening lap of the race with clutch failure. A year later, Schumacher took his first victory at a rather damp Spa. He has won in Belgium a further five times, including the 2001 race, where he took his 52nd victory to claim the all-time record for most wins by a driver, and the 2004 race, where he clinched his seventh title.
This year’s race presents the very real possibility of another Schumacher victory. The 2012 Mercedes W03 is easily the best car he has raced since returning to the sport in 2010, and it is well-suited to the track. Spa demands engine performance and high top speed, which are the strengths of the W03. The middle sector of the lap requires downforce and high-speed cornering stability, which are not the strong points of the car, but quick first and third sectors should result in Mercedes being competitive.
In 2011, Schumacher crashed in qualifying, which meant he had to start from the back of the grid. The seven-time champion finished fifth, producing one of the finest drives of his career and reminding the racing world that he is still extremely capable behind the wheel and hungry for success.
Can Schumacher deliver victory at Spa? He will need to qualify well, and race as well as he has ever done in his career, but it is possible with the current car. Given his history at Spa and the possibility that this may be his last Belgian Grand Prix, it would be a fitting way to return to the track where his Formula journey began.