Schumi ready to celebrate 300th race
LONDON - Reuters
REUTERS PhotoMichael Schumacher is back in his Belgian ‘living room’ this weekend, ready to celebrate a 300th career grand prix at a Spa-Francorchamps circuit that has already given him so many great memories to treasure.
Only one other driver, Schumacher’s former Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello, has reached such a milestone in Formula One and the seven times world champion could not have chosen a more special place for it.
Spa was where the German made an eye-catching debut in 1991, qualifying seventh as a little-known stand-in with the Jordan team, and where with Benetton in 1992 he took the first of his record 91 wins.
The longest track in Formula One, sweeping through the Ardennes forests, was also where he won his last championship in 2004 with Ferrari. The 43-year-old has won there six times, more than any other driver.
“Spa is like my living room; For me, it’s clearly the number one race track in the world,” the Mercedes driver declared in a team preview as Formula One returned to work after the long August shutdown.
“It’s uncanny how I always seem to have special moments there...the fact that I will also take part in my 300th Grand Prix at Spa was somehow almost inevitable and we will have to celebrate it in the right way.”
While it will be a ‘triple ton’ for Schumacher, who is 12th overall in the current standings and a massive 135 points behind Ferrari’s leader Fernando Alonso with nine of the 20 races remaining, he has yet to start as many.
The definition of a start has long been open to debate, with some excluding the 1976 German GP from Austrian Niki Lauda’s career tally because the race started afresh and without him after his near-fatal crash.
The badly burned triple champion’s deadpan response to being informed later that he had not officially started the race has gone down in F1 folklore: “Oh yes? So what happened to my ear?”.
Schumacher did not start the 1996 French GP, despite qualifying on pole, after his Ferrari engine failed on the formation lap. He also crashed at the 1999 British GP, breaking his leg in an accident before a restart.
Mercedes, who took a breakthrough win in China with Nico Rosberg in April and celebrated Schumacher’s return to the podium for the first time since 2006 when he finished third in Valencia in June, will hope to make it a weekend to remember even if they are far from favourites.
Spa - dripping with history as well as everything else the notoriously fickle local climate can throw at it - is just about every Formula One driver’s top track with its fast-flowing layout and sweeping plunge down and up through Eau Rouge.
It is no place for the faint-hearted, rewarding the fearless as the list of winners testifies: Only two in the last 25 years have not gone on to win titles or been champions already.
Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen still holds the lap record, set with McLaren in 2004, and the Finn’s last grand prix victory was at Spa with Ferrari in 2009 before he left F1 for two years to go rallying.
Raikkonen, fifth overall and 48 points adrift of Spaniard Alonso, has won four times in Belgium - including three times in a row between 2004 and 2007 - and has the best record at Spa over the last 10 years.