Lewis Hamilton wants to emulate Michael Schumacher at Ferrari

The pair are tied with seven drivers’ championships each

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There are countless parallels between the Formula 1 careers of Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, from their trajectories to successes and the latest one is that they will have raced for the same team on two different occasions as the Briton joins Ferrari, with the heritage and legacy of the German driver and his team proving irresistible.

When Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996, Hamilton was no more than 11 years old and was focusing on karting, his primary school exams and watching the great German begin to carve a legacy at the Italian team that will stand the test of time forever.

It’s that legacy that, 20 years on from Schumacher’s final title with the Scuderia, pushed Hamilton to make a dramatic decision to abandon Mercedes for northern Italy and Maranello, and he spoke about how he wants to emulate one of his racing idols.

“I think for every driver growing up watching history, watching Michael Schumacher, in his prime,” Hamilton said to media at F1 testing. “I think all of us sit in our garage and see the screen pop up and you see the driver in the red car, and you wonder what it’d be like to be surrounded by them.

“And you go to the Italian Grand Prix, and we see the sea of red Ferrari fans, and you can only stand in awe of that… And it’s a team that’s not had huge success since Michael’s day, but mostly since 2007 and I saw it as a huge challenge.

“Without a doubt, even as a kid, I used to play as a Grand Prix 2 [a video game] as Michael in that car. So, it’s definitely is a dream and I’m really excited about.”

Just how good was Schumacher’s Ferrari run?

It shows the measure of the man that he even made the decision to join Ferrari for 1996. Of course, Schumacher’s persona and enigma is a large part of his legacy, and it was a bold, brave move to make in 1995 when Ferrari finished as the third best team with 73 points and one win.

They were well off the pace of Williams (112 points) and Benneton (137 points) and hadn’t won a world championship since 1983 making them pretty unremarkable as far as things go and quite unattractive but that didn’t stop Schumacher taking on the unthinkable.

So, when he made the switch from the world champions, Benetton, to Ferrari for 1996, Schumacher was already regarded as the best driver on the grid but not many would have predicted what would have happened next.

“This kind of motivation was what I was looking for,” Schumacher said of his move to Ferrari in 1996. “I was not looking for an easy job where I sit in the car and I’ll win every race, or where people at least expect me to win every race – this is not the challenge I’m looking for.”

And that’s exactly what he got. Ferrari finished the 1996 season 105 points below Williams, worse than the year prior, and many were wondering whether he had wasted his potential by choosing such an underperforming team.

But then came the 1997 and 1998 seasons, which showed promise despite ending in disappointment as the titles slipped away from Schumacher in the dying embers of the season and, according to Jean Todt, had the team questioning if he was the right driver for them.

But what came next was an untouchable legacy forged in Italy and the German, in the process, transcended the sport becoming a household name around the world regardless of whether you watched F1 or not and he remains exactly that to this day, despite being out of the public eye since his 2013 skiing accident.

He claimed his first Ferrari title in the 2000 F1 season to bring the team their first crown in 17 years, beating Mika Hakkinen by 19 points and winning nine races. From there it would only get better, stronger, dominant.

In 2001, he got his fourth career championship by scoring almost twice as many points as the runner-up, once again winning nine races and only placing off the podium on one occasion in any race he finished.

2002 was unthinkable. As he tied Juan Manuel Fangio’s titles, Schumacher was never off the podium and he won 11 races out of 17 attempts finishing with almost twice as many points as his teammate in second.

Michael Schumacher during qualifying for the Italian F1 Grand Prix at Monza, on September 13, 2008 | REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

But dominating is easy to the eyes of the public, it’s how a driver deals with competition is what makes them great. In 2003, a challenge from Kimi Raikkonen, regarded as the fastest driver in raw speed, emerged and pushed Schumacher to the very brink.

Yet the German was still victorious, winning the crown by two points from the young pretender to claim the drivers’ titles record for himself until Hamilton matched it in 2020, 17 years later.

And then to top off the championship-winning era with his iconic team, spear-headed by Todt and Ross Brawn, he unleashed one final message to the detractors that he was the best around as he dominated the 2004 season.

Schumacher won 13 times in 18 races compared to two for his teammate, to claim his seventh, and final, title by 34 points. Back then, it was a gap worth enough for three DNFs if his teammate won all of the races too.

Undoubtedly one of the best ever athletes, Schumacher will never be forgotten and if Hamilton does want to emulate his idol, he’s got a mammoth challenge ahead of him to bring glory back to a Ferrari team that has been starved of it for 16 years.

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