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Father-son world champions in F1

Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship (Image: Daimler AG)

Like many occupations, motor racing tends to be a family affair. The children of professional racing drivers often become racing drivers themselves, to varying degrees of success. In very rare cases, both generations reach the pinnacle of their chosen racing categories. Let’s have a look at how this has happened in Formula 1.

In the history of motor racing, it’s not all that unusual for multiple members of the same family to race in Formula 1 (examples include Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve; Emerson, Wilson Jr and Christian Fittipaldi; Jody and Ian Scheckter; Michael and Ralf Schumacher; Jos and Max Verstappen) . Winning the World Championship, however, is a much more elite affair, so much so that only twice has a World Champion been related to a previous World Champion. In both cases,  the relationship was a that of son-father.

The first son of a World Champion to win the title himself was Damon Hill, in 1996. Damon is the son of double World Champion Graham Hill, who won the title in 1962 for BRM and 1968 for Lotus. While Damon was certainly exposed to racing from a very young age due to his father’s career, it was by no means a given that he would find success in Formula 1. Having started his racing career on motorcycles, Damon only started racing racing cars from 1983, when he was already 23 years old.

Damon Hill made his F1 debut for Brabham at the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix. At the time, he was 31 years old, which even then was unusually old for a driver to break into Formula 1. In the same season, he was a test driver for Williams, who signed him for a race seat in 1993 when Riccardo Patrese moved to Benetton. Hill won 3 races in 1993, providing his team-mate and eventual champion Alain Prost with a stronger challenge than expected.

In 1994, Damon remained with Williams to partner Ayrton Senna, and would no doubt have expected to spend the season as Senna’s number two. Tragically, Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix, and Hill inherited the role of team leader and challenger to championship leader Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher would go on to take the title in 1994 and 1995, with Hill second in both seasons. 1996, however, was Hill’s year, and he fended off a strong challenge from Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to realise his dream of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. In doing so, he became the first son of a World Champion to win the title.

For a while, it seemed that the Hill family might have a chance of producing a third-generation champion. Damon’s son Josh raced single seaters for a few years, progressing as high as the European Formula 3 Championship in 2013, but decided to retire from racing that season.

Nico Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title himself when he beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 crown just a few weeks ago. Nico is the son of Keke Rosberg, who won the title for Williams in 1982.

Success at F1 level was a long time coming for Nico Rosberg. He made his debut for Williams in 2006, but had to wait until the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, his 111th Grand Prix start, to take his first win in Formula 1. It was worth the wait, however, as the younger Rosberg would go on to win 23 races and eventually the 2016 World Championship.

Nico Rosberg owes his F1 success to a significant extent to the dominance of the Mercedes team over the past few seasons. That’s not to minimise his achievement – the vast majority of F1 championships have been won in the fastest car. However, being at Mercedes has also brought the challenge of being team-mate to Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg finished runner-up to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 before finally besting his illustrious team-mate in 2016. Such was the dominance of the Mercedes team, though, it could easily have been Rosberg who topped the standings in all three seasons. His defeat of Hamilton in 2016 was testament to Rosberg’s determination and consistency. Never before in the history of F1 has a driver beaten his own triple-World Champion team-mate to the title.

In winning the 2016 World Championship, Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title. His shock retirement from F1 immediately after securing the crown means there are no drivers currently in Formula 1 who can repeat the achievement – assuming they continue to race in 2016, Max Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer are all the sons of former F1 drivers, but none of their fathers won the World Championship.

Who will be next?

In the junior ranks of single seater racing, no name is currently attracting more attention than Mick Schumacher. The son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick is 17 years old and looks likely to make his Formula 3 debut in 2017.

Mick Schumacher seems to be more than just a young driver with a famous name. In 2016, he competed in Italian Formula 4 and German Formula 4 and finished runner-up in both championships, with a combined total of 10 wins and 8 pole positions.

The young Schumacher is currently racing in the 2016–17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, which takes place from November 2016 to February 2017. He is fourth in the championship, with  2 victories.

Rumours over the last couple of years have linked Mick Schumacher with the junior programs of the Ferrari and Mercedes Formula 1 teams. Given the close ties both F1 teams have to the Schumacher family, it seems possible that Mick could be under consideration for a Formula 1 drive in the future, assuming that he continues to impress as he makes his way through the junior ranks.

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Hamilton closing in on pole records

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton is the reigning Formula 1 World Champion. He is leading the 2015 Drivers’ Championship and is the favourite to be this year’s champion too. One of the reasons for his current dominance is his qualifying performance. Hamilton has qualified in pole position for nine out of the first ten races of the season. That performance is remarkable, and could lead to Hamilton breaking some records in the not too distant future.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Hamilton’s qualifying record in 2015 is how much he has improved since 2014. Last season, Nico Rosberg had team-mate Hamilton soundly beaten in terms of pole positions over the season, taking 11 poles to Hamilton’s seven. In 2014 so far, Rosberg has just one pole position (in Spain), while Hamilton has had the top spot on the grid for every other race.

The record for most pole positions in a season is currently held by Sebastian Vettel, who was on pole an astonishing 15 times out of 19 races in 2011. Hamilton will need another seven pole positions this season to beat Vettel’s record. After this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, there are nine races left in 2015. If Hamilton keeps up his Saturday dominance, there is a distinct possibility that Vettel’s record could be under threat.

Given the dominance of the Mercedes team since the start of 2014, it looks like Hamilton is set to have many more pole positions over the next season or two. And that puts a more significant milestone within reach – Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions.

Hamilton is currently on 47 career pole positions (up to and including the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix), 21 shy of Schumacher’s record. There are not enough races left in 2015 for Hamilton to challenge the record this season, but it could be within reach as soon as the end of 2016 if Mercedes can produce another dominant car for next year.

At just 30 years old, Hamilton still has potentially quite a long career in Formula 1 ahead of him. Even if he finds himself in less than dominant cars for a few seasons, it is still likely that he will ultimately beat Schumacher’s qualifying record.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Sebastian Vettel (currently on 45 pole positions) will get there first.

Mercedes W05 to show support for Schumi

Mercedes W05 with a message of support for Michael Schumacher (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Mercedes W05 with a message of support for Michael Schumacher (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

The Mercedes AMG F1 team has revealed that its 2014 car, the W05, will display a message of support for Michael Schumacher during the first pre-season test that begins tomorrow in Jerez, Spain.

Schumacher was injured in a skiing accident on 29 December. The retired seven-time World Champion remains in an artificial coma after undergoing surgery in the hours and days following his accident. It is not yet known to what extent Schumacher might recover or when such a recovery can be expected to take place.

Following his total domination of Formula One with Ferrari, Schumacher retired in 2006 before making a comeback with Mercedes in 2010. Although the comeback did not yield the results that were targeted, Schumacher became very much a part of the team and was held in high esteem and affection by his fellow team members. The message shown on the W05 during the coming test is an indication that they, like the rest of the racing community, are anxious for positive news from Schumacher’s doctors.

Mercedes are not the only team to be showing support for Schumacher. Messages of support have been sent by all of the teams to the family, and Ferrari have rallied behind Schumacher’s family, showing their support with personal communication and public shows of solidarity.

Race of Champions cancelled

Race of Champions

Race of Champions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2013 Race of Champions has been cancelled, the organisers announced today. The ROC was scheduled to take place in Bangkok Thailand on December 14-15.

The following statement appeared on the Race of Champions website today:

“The Sports Authority of Thailand and the organisers of the 2013 Race Of Champions have announced that the event cannot take place as planned on December 14-15 due to the current political situation in Bangkok.

“Our thoughts are with the Thai people during this difficult period and we wish that a peaceful solution will soon be found. The Race Of Champions has been held all over the world for 25 consecutive years and we are currently looking at options of repeating the success of last year’s event in Bangkok on another date.

“Fans who have already purchased tickets for this year’s Race Of Champions should contact Thai Ticket Major or their ticketing agent for further information on refunds.”

The Race of Champions has become a major event on the motorsport calendar, pitting some of the best drivers in the world from various motorsport disciplines against each other in equal machinery. Among those scheduled to appear at the now-cancelled 2013 event were 7-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, former Grand Prix winner David Coulthard, 4-time Australian V8 supercar champion Jamie Whincup, recently crowned World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier and motorcycle racing legend Mick Doohan.

It’s not yet clear if it will be possible for the 2013 Race of Champions to be moved to a later date. Issues of politics and location aside, many of the drivers involved are already preparing for the start of their respective 2014 seasons, which limits their availability.

Schumacher turns down offer to race for Lotus

Michael Schumacher has turned down an offer to race for Lotus (Image: Mercedes)

Michael Schumacher has turned down an offer to race for Lotus (Image: Mercedes)

Retired seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher has rejected an offer to race for Lotus in the final two races of the 2013 season. Schumacher retired from Formula One for the second time at the end of 2012 after making a three-year comeback to the sport with Mercedes.

Lotus are in need of a competitive driver to fill in for Kimi Raikkonen, who is unavailable for the US and Brazilian Grands Prix due to the need for surgery on his back. So far, Lotus have approached quite a few drivers, if the rumours are true, and Schumacher is among them.

Sky Sports F1 quoted Schumacher’s spokesperson Sabine Kehm as saying,

“Michael’s performance against Nico (Rosberg) and Nico’s performance against Lewis (Hamilton) made a lot of people aware of how good Michael still was,” she said.

“Plus, he is still very fit. But he just feels so good in his new life.”

A second, albeit brief, comeback by Schumacher to Formula One would have created quite a stir in the sport, particularly as it would have taken place in the United States and Brazil, two countries where he enjoyed an enormous amount of success during his time with Benetton and Ferrari.

Nico Hulkenberg, who currently drives for Sauber, also turned down an invitation from Lotus to take over Raikkonen’s car for the remainder of the season. It seems that Lotus are not interested in giving their official reserve driver, Davide Valsecchi, a chance, as he has no experience racing in Formula One and Lotus are in need of strong results as they chase after second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

Based on the rumours currently doing the rounds, the most likely driver to take over Raikkonen’s car is Heikki Kovalainen. Although he has not raced in F1 this season, Kovalainen has taken part in six Friday practice sessions for Caterham, for whom he raced from 2010 to 2012. Before that, Kovalainen spent two seasons at McLaren, with whom he won the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Schumacher: The Early Years

Formula One’s most successful driver has retired, this time for good. This series of articles looks back on the life and career of the phenomenon that is Michael Schumacher.


Michael Schumacher testing the Jordan 191, pai...

Michael Schumacher testing the Jordan 191 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Schumacher was born in the German town of Hürth-Hermülheim on 3 January 1969 to parents Rolf, a bricklayer, and Elisabeth Schumacher. His younger brother Ralf, who would also become a Formula One driver, came along six years later. The family settled in Kerpen, where Michael would grow up and learn to race.

The Schumachers were not well off, which would be a major barrier to motor racing for most aspiring drivers. Schumacher would therefore have to rely on talent to get him to the top. He had plenty of that.

Schumacher’s first interaction with racing cars came at the age of four, when his father fitted a small motorcycle engine to Michael’s pedal kart. Michael proceeded to crash into a lamp post, which prompted his parents to take him to the local kart track where he became the karting club’s youngest member.

Due to the family’s lack of finances, Michael’s early exploits in karting came in second-hand equipment. He would pick up discarded used tyres at the track and squeeze some more life out of them. He enjoyed the challenge of drifting and controlled spinning and particularly relished wet weather driving, often practising in the rain while his competitors might choose to stay off the treacherous track. There can be little doubt that such preparation assisted in turning him into one of the great wet weather Formula One drivers in history.

Schumacher said of his karting days: “It was good fun just driving around, drifting, sliding and spinning, especially in the wet. I would do 360 degree spins, then I would try 720s, twice round, and all these things. The sport really came to me because I just enjoyed myself.”

To say Schumacher was a good karter is an understatement of ridiculous magnitude. He demolished the opposition at almost every level, starting in Kerpen where he won the club championship, and going on to victory in the German junior championship two years in a row. 1985 saw Schumacher finish runner-up in the world junior championship at Le Mans.

At senior level, Schumacher finished third in the 1986 European championship before taking the 1987 German championship and winning the European title in the same year.

Karting was the beginning of Schumacher’s journey in motor racing, as it has been for so many other Formula One drivers, including Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton, but inevitably it was time for the young Schumacher to move on to cars. His success in karting attracted the notice of various team bosses who wanted to get him into single seaters.

Schumacher’s first forays into car racing came in German Formula Ford and Formula König in 1988. His success in the latter series was an indication of things to come in Formula One – Schumacher won 9 out of the season’s 10 races, stood on the podium in every race and took the title with ease.

English: Michael Schumacher's car used at the ...

Michael Schumacher’s car used at the Macau Grand Prix in 1990 and exhibited there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His performance was noticed by Willi Weber, who ran the WTS Racing team in the German Formula 3 championship. Weber signed Schumacher on a two-year contract, and his driver duly delivered results, winning two races in 1989 on the way to third in the championship, and taking the title the following year with five victories from 11 races. Schumacher also won the prestigious Macau Grand Prix in 1990, beating his future F1 rival Mika Hakkinen after contact between the two put Hakkinen out of the second race.

It was also in 1990 that Schumacher’s career deviated from the usual path of a single-seater driver. At the time, it was normal to progress through Formula 3 to Formula 3000 and then on to Formula One. But Schumacher, on the advice of Willi Weber, went instead to the Mercedes junior racing programme which involved racing for the Sauber-Mercedes team in the World Sportscar Championship, along with his racing in Formula 3.

At Sauber, Schumacher raced alongside Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger, both of whom would race against Schumacher in Formula One. The three young drivers were mentored by the experienced Jochen Mass and learned critical skills, including how to be fuel efficient without losing time. He could not have known it at the time, but Schumacher’s involvement with Mercedes would play a crucial role in his promotion to Formula One, in the form of financial support.

Michael Schumacher at the wheel of the Sauber C11 in the 1990 World Sportscar Championship (Photo Credit: Daimler AG)

Michael Schumacher at the wheel of the Sauber C11 in the 1990 World Sportscar Championship (Photo Credit: Daimler AG)

Schumacher showed his speed in the 1990 World Sportscar Championship by finishing fifth despite only competing in three out of the season’s nine races, the last of which he won. He would win the final round of the 1991 season as well, although he finished only ninth in the championship that year. However, in the grand scheme of Michael Schumacher’s career, the World Sportscar Championship of 1991 would take a back seat to a much more significant event – his Formula One debut.

Leading up to the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot was handed a two-month jail sentence for attacking a London taxi driver with CS Gas. Consequently, Eddie Jordan needed a driver to take over one of his cars at the demanding Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Willi Weber, who was managing Schumacher at the time, contacted Jordan and after some coaxing, which included the promise of a payment of $150 000 from Mercedes for the race, Schumacher was given the drive.

Spa is a daunting track. It was then, and still is now, the longest track in Formula One, and it has some of the fastest and most challenging corners in world racing. The Raidillon and Eau Rouge corners are perhaps the best known piece of race track in the world. The cars plunge down a hill before flicking left and then turning right up another steep hill and then left again at the top of a blind rise – all without lifting off in the dry. It’s spectacular to watch and is said to be thrilling to drive.

When Schumacher arrived at Spa in 1991, he had never driven the track, which almost caused Eddie Jordan to backtrack on his agreement to put the young German in the car. But he needn’t have been concerned – Schumacher hopped on his bicycle and learned the layout by riding it, before going out in practice the next morning and astonishing the Jordan engineers with his lap times.

By now, the story of Schumacher’s performance in qualifying for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix is the stuff of legend. A driver in his first race normally aims simply to keep the car on the track and not make too much of a fool of himself. Schumacher had other ideas, and went about his qualifying session with the confidence that would characterise his entire Formula One career.

Schumacher’s team-mate for that race was the experienced and well-regarded Andrea de Cesaris, who was expected to show Schumacher the ropes. De Cesaris qualified 11th, which was not a bad performance in that year’s Jordan. Schumacher put his car seventh on the grid, seven tenths of a second quicker than de Cesaris and quicker even than the Benetton of Roberto Moreno.

At the start of the race, Schumacher made up two places to fifth on the run down to the first corner, before dropping back to sixth on the exit of the corner. Unfortunately, that was it for Schumacher as his clutch failed going into Eau Rouge and he coasted to a halt at the top of the hill.

While it was a disappointing end to his first race, his qualifying performance ensured that this young, fresh-faced German was the talk of Formula One. His talent was obvious. Where it would take him was beyond the imagination of anyone in Formula One at the time. But he was clearly something special.

Michael Schumacher had arrived in Formula One.

Vettel’s not close to Schumacher’s records

Michael Schumacher congratulates Sebastian Vettel on his third title in 2012 © Daimler

Michael Schumacher congratulates Sebastian Vettel on his third title in 2012 © Daimler

Sebastian Vettel has been so dominant over the last four seasons it’s been suggested that it’s only a matter of time before he overhauls Michael Schumacher’s major records in the sport. But that’s not particularly realistic. Let’s take a look at how things stand right now:

Schumacher Vettel Difference
Championships 7 3 4
Wins 91 33 58
Podiums 155 56 99
Pole Positions 68 41 27
Fastest Laps 77 19 58

Now let’s look at each of these categories separately:

Championships

Vettel is four World Championships behind Michael Schumacher in the record list. That’s the equivalent of the entire career of Alain Prost, who is certainly among the all-time greats. Even assuming Vettel wins the 2013 Drivers’ Championship (which looks pretty much inevitable at this stage of the season), Vettel will still have to win another three titles just to match Schumacher, nevermind exceed his achievements.

Consider the drivers who have finished their F1 careers with three titles: Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. That’s a formidable list. Vettel has already matched the championship tally of each of these drivers, and won more races than all but Senna, but the task of Vettel doing it all again is a rather tall order indeed.

It’s not fair to Vettel to expect him to overhaul Schumacher’s championship tally. He’s looking set to equal Prost on four. Perhaps he’ll be in a position to win another one and equal Fangio. It’s much too early to start talking about Schumacher’s seven titles.

Wins

Vettel is currently fourth on the list of all-time winners with 33 victories. Schumacher won 91 races, 58 more than Vettel has so far in his F1 career. 58 wins is more than second-placed man Alain Prost won in his career (Prost won 51). So far, Vettel has won 28.95% of the races he has entered. At that rate, he would have to compete for another 200 races to match Schumacher’s victory tally. 200 races is close to double Vettel’s career so far. It’s so far away from being realistic that it’s not worth discussing further for at least another 5 years.

Podiums

Schumacher stood on the podium 155 times. Vettel has so far appeared on the podium 56 times. That’s a difference of 99 podiums, more than Fernando Alonso has achieved in his career, and Alonso is third in that particular all-time list.

Vettel is very far away from matching Schumacher’s podium finishes. Again, let’s come back to this one in a few years.

Pole Positions

At last, here’s a record that Vettel seems likely to challenge in his career. Schumacher’s tally of 68 pole positions is only 27 successful qualifying sessions away for Vettel. If Red Bull continue to produce cars as stunningly fast as those Vettel has raced for the past four seasons, Vettel could (in theory) beat Schumacher’s pole position tally by the end of 2014. He’d have to take pole at every race between now and then, which is not likely. But it does seem inevitable that Vettel will break this particular Schumacher record at some point.

In only his seventh season of Formula One, Vettel has already put himself third in the all-time list of polesitters. He has only Senna (on 65) and Schumacher ahead. It’s a fairly safe bet that the pole position record will have Vettel’s name on it within the next five years, and perhaps a bit sooner than that.

Fastest Laps

Surprisingly, Vettel is not even in the top ten when it comes to setting fastest race laps. He’s recorded just 19, compared to Schumacher’s mammoth total of 77. In fairness to Vettel, his career has taken place almost entirely in the post-refueling era, which makes it much less obvious that the fastest lap should go to the driver of the fastest car. Schumacher was famous for delivering qualifying-style laps just before he pitted for fuel in his Ferrari career, which explains his rather huge fastest lap record (second on the list is Prost on “only” 41). But those days are done, for now at least. If refueling reappears during Vettel’s career, then he might begin to approach this record.

As things stand, Vettel would have to have a very long career indeed to catch up the 58 fastest laps by which he currently trails Schumacher.

Vettel is a great driver. Even at the rather youthful age of 26, he’s worthy of consideration for inclusion in any list of the top 5 drivers of all time. He looks set to feature at the front in Formula One for as long as he is inclined to be a part of the sport.  But it’s far too early in his career to be talking about Schumacher’s records, with the possible exception of the pole position record.

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