Is the most successful driver in Formula One in danger of losing his records to Sebastian Vettel? Michael Schumacher is now 44 years old and retired from Formula 1 – for good – at the end of last season. His compatriot is only 26 and probably not even half way through his career.
By the time Schumacher reached the pinnacle of motorsport, Vettel was just having fun with a miniature kart in his yard at home. Schumacher was his childhood hero and when Vettel’s time finally came to get into Formula 1, his hero had retired.
Vettel did get the chance to race his hero a few years later and won all of his title during Schumacher’s three-year comeback to Formula 1 between 2010 and 2012.
Both Germans won their first title during their fourth season in Formula 1, clinching their maiden crown at the final round of the season (1994, 2010). Schumacher was 25 years old when he won his first title. At the same age Vettel became the youngest triple World Champion.
The first years
Vettel was only four years old when Schumacher made his Formula One debut in 1991. 16 years later when Vettel raced in his first Grand Prix, Schumacher was facing his first retirement from the sport. Vettel experienced the taste of setting a record almost one year before his debut race when he became the youngest driver ever to participate to an official practice session. It happened in Turkey in 2006, where he was 19 years and 53 days old. Somewhat ironically, he also set the record for the quickest fine in the sport as he broke the pit lane speed limit on his first voyage towards the circuit.
Schumacher made his debut with Jordan at the Belgian Grand Prix. He qualified an astonishing seventh, which was the team’s season-best grid position, but retired from the race on the first lap due to some clutch problems.
Vettel made his debut with BMW Sauber at Indianapolis in 2007. He also qualified seventh but finished eighth and with that result he set a new record in becoming the youngest driver to score a championship point. He was still three weeks shy of his 20th birthday.
Vettel drove for Toro Rosso during his first full season, in 2008. During the space of a single race weekend at Monza, he set three new records: the youngest driver to claim pole position, the youngest driver on the podium and the youngest winner in Formula 1 history.
Schumacher scored his first championship point at his second race in Formula 1, also at Monza, after he switched from Jordan to Benetton.
The seven-time World Champion contested in 41 Grand Prix until scoring his first pole position while the three-time World Champion only needed 21 races to do the same. However, Schumacher’s maiden victory came at just his eighteenth attempt; Vettel’s maiden win came at his 22nd race.
Conversely, Schumacher was 23 years old when he won his first race in 1992. At the same age Vettel was winning his maiden championship title and became the youngest World Champion in Formula 1 under the lights in Abu Dhabi.
Records do matter
Vettel has three times less wins and podium finishes than Schumacher but is closing the gap to his points record, nonetheless such comparisons are pointless due to the drastic changes introduced in 2010. At the end of this season Vettel will reach 120 races in Formula 1. To beat Schumacher’s 307 races record he may need to race for another 10 more years, with an average of 20 races on the calendar every season. By then he will be 36 years old.
|Records||S. Vettel||M. Schumacher|
|World Titles||3 (2010-12)||7 (1994, 95, 2000-04)|
|Points finishes*||82 (73.9%)||221 (72%)|
|Poles in one season||15 (2011)||11 (2001)|
|Wins in one season||11 (2011)||13 (2004)|
|Doubles (Pole, Win)||21||40|
|Triples (Pole, Win, FL)||5||22|
At 25 years old Vettel became the youngest triple world champion. At the same age Schumacher was just winning his first Championship. Vettel’s three titles ranks him equal with Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Jackie Steward and Jack Brabham. Only Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have won more championships than him.
What’s more frightening is that the likes of Senna and Prost were into their thirties before they racked up multiple titles; if Red Bull masters next year’s regulation changes then Vettel could usurp them all. Some drivers insist that records don’t bother them, but Vettel knows his place in the history books. After all, Vettel regularly goes hell for leather to record the fastest lap of a race on the final lap.
Schumacher won his last title in 2004, at 35 years old, while his last victory came two years later at the Chinese Grand Prix. He was 43 when last competed in a Formula 1 race, before his second retirement from the sport at the end of 2012.
Schumacher didn’t win any race during his comeback but showed he can still put a perfect lap on one of the most challenging tracks in Formula 1 when he claimed pole position in Monte Carlo last year. Moreover he proved he can still be competing at the top with his last podium finish at the 2012 European Grand Prix, which came 20 years after he first went on a podium. Will we be able to write the same about Vettel in 2028? Only time will tell…