IT’S been five years since Michael Schumacher, my driving idol of all time, suffered that near-fatal skiing accident.
As the most successful Formula One (F1) racer in history, Schumacher has captured the imagination of a world not only enamored with burning rubber but also intensely attached to that wondrous muscle that can zoom to speeds almost faster than sound.
When you talk of the perfect harmony between man and machine in a race that only welcomes death-defiant fools, what quickly comes to mind are Schumacher and Ferrari.
And yet, Schumacher wasn’t your picture of a brutal hell driver but rather, of the modern-day racer who elevated racing to an art of flying a car to improbable speeds eschewed on poetry in motion—literally.
I saw him in the flesh first in 1999 when his sponsor Shell invited me to cover the inaugural F1 race in the Sepang International Circuit in Selangor, Malaysia.
Although he didn’t win that year—but the memory of our handshake is with me forever—Schumacher’s breakthrough triumph the following year signaled the birth of an era. It sparked the German sensation’s unprecedented seven F1 victories—five of them carrying Ferrari. Before his win in 2000, Ferrari’s last world title came in 1979 through Jody Scheckter.
How Schumacher did it seven times, including back-to-back wins with Benetton in 1994-1995, is an F1 legend of more than a fairytale stuff. It may never happen again.
Thus, it is such a pity, indeed, that when Schumacher celebrated his 50th birthday this week (Jan. 3), his life remained wrapped in secrecy as per his wishes—an offshoot of that tragedy in the French Alps on Dec. 29, 2013.
The mishap caused the right side of his head to hit a rock, splitting open his helmet. Doctors weren’t able to remove all blood clots, with others too deeply embedded in his brain.
He has never been seen in public since.
His family’s birthday statement read: “Michael can be proud of what he has achieved, and so are we. We want to remember and celebrate his victories, his records and jubilation.”
My prayers for Schumacher’s full recovery will never wane.