Last week January 3rd was Michael Schumacher’s 50th birthday. As you might have already know, Michael had a near-fatal skiing accident five years ago and he is not quite the same as before. Very little is known about his current condition other than he is being cared for at his home in Switzerland.
His family asks for privacy and only a small group of close friends have seen Michael since, and none of them are saying anything about his present condition, apart from the obvious that he needs round-the-clock care.
Fans and the F1 community are still rooting for the seven-time world champion's (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) recovery and for this his 50th birthday, former archrival Mika Hakkinen posted on his Instagram wishing him “Happy 50th birthday. You were truly missed filming Motorsports Heroes documentary.”
At their peak, the two were bitter rivals. The duo’s legendary overtaking move in the 2000 season at Spa is now stuff of legends but what was less remembered was the built up to it, where Michael pushed Mika towards the grass at 300 km/h, which infuriated Mika.
Still, in their retirement years, Mika often describes Michael not as a foe but as an old friend. This is not surprising. Few can understand the pain and sacrifices that world champions go through, and like war veterans, sometimes the only people who can understand them are their fiercest rivals. Nikki Lauda, in his retirement years also said the same of how much he missed the late James Hunt, and wished he's still around to watch the movie Rush with him.
During his days with Ferrari, Schumacher wasn’t very kind to Mika but in his retirement years he did went on record to say, "The most respected guy in all those years was Mika Hakkinen (1998, 1999 world champion). Great fights but stable private relationship."
In conjunction with Schumacher’s 50th birthday, the official Formula 1 channel has published several video interviews with the other F1 World Champions that Schumacher had raced with – Damon Hill (1996), Mika Hakkinen (1998, 1999), and Fernando Alonso (2005, 2006), asking them on their relationship and thoughts on Schumacher. Also interviewed was Mika Hakkinen’s former teammate David Coulthard.
As expected, all of them were candid about their dislike for Schumacher’s liberal interpretation of what’s legal and what’s not, and the questionable ethics of his racing tactics. Still, they all agree that these imperfections were also what made the Schumacher-era of F1 so colourful, and everyone agreed that he was one of the best, if not the best driver in Formula One history.
"My battles with Michael, I have to say they were the best moments of my career," said Alonso, the two-time world champion who first broke Schumacher's dominance in 2005. Alonso also added that the racing intensity with Schumacher was notably lower after he wrestled the world title away from Schumacher. Michael retired the following year, probably having accepted the fact that it's time to make way for a younger contender and that it's better to retire when he is still regarded as a champion.
1996 world champion Damon Hill, who lost the 1994 title to Michael when the latter staged an accident which put him out of the race in Adelide 1994 said, "I didn't expect that Michael would take me off if I was going to pass him."
"I couldn't understand, if you are that talented and brilliant, why would you want any extra help, and Michael would admit that there were times when he overstepped the mark," said Hill.
On hindsight, Hill also explained that Schumacher's move was to be expected. "I would say now, I would say definitely in the team there would've been a discussion because they need to win the world championship, and they are not going to let you pass." However Hill also asked retrospectively, "But in his position, what would I have done? I don't know."
Hill was full of praise for Michael's driving talent. "I had to dig deeper than I've ever driven before, to be able to put myself even on the same level as Michael."
The most anticipated interview was of course, that of Mika Hakkinen. "To beat him and challenge him on the race track it was always a fair fight and I know Michael was enjoying it. Fair fight - I meant from my side," said Mika with a cheeky smile before laughing.
However Mika also pointed that out while Michael's tactics on the track can be controversial, he always gave due respect to his rivals in public. "It's so easy to solve your frustrations in public, to start saying something about your competitor. We didn't start this kind of games in the media."
The videos of the interview can be viewed here. There are eight videos and one podcast in the playlist.
One notable person is missing from the list though – 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, who never quite forgave Schumacher for deliberately driving his Ferrari into Villeneuve's Williams in a failed attempt to block Villeneuve from winning the 1997 World Championship. In 2017, Villeneuve recounted the title deciding race at Jerez in 1997. You can view the interview here.