F1 Classics - Ralf Schumacher; A career in the shadows
The name Schumacher will always be associated with one man and one name. Michael. The German legend has almost every record there is under his belt, and is rightly or wrongly regarded as the best driver to have ever lived. Here, we look back at what his brother Ralf did in his illustrious F1 career.
Ralf spent ten consecutive years in the sport, from 1997 and his debut with Jordan proved to be a solid, if sometimes erratic start to an F1 career. Ralf finished on the podium in his third race at the Argentine Grand Prix, although he collided and took out teammate Giancarlo Fisichella during this race signalling the beginning of a less than blossoming relationship. The two would go on to collide again later that season, as Schumacher’s best finish remained the third place in Argentina. The young German failed to finish ten out of the seventeen races. For 1998, Jordan were powered by Honda and had recruited 1996 word champion Damon Hill from Arrows, and the car instantly proved to be more competitive. Schumacher was the second of a 1-2 in the infamous Belgian Grand Prix of that year, and clinched a podium in Italy as well. Despite out qualifying Hill by more than double, he finished behind the Brit in the standings.
For 1999, he joined Williams, who had underperformed since Adrian Newey’s departure for McLaren in 1998. The season was to be no different, with the underpowered engine that was a legacy of Renault pulling out of a partnership with Williams proving to be uncompetitive. Despite this, Schumacher did fight for the win at the European Grand Prix before a puncture put paid to that. He scored three podiums for 1999, although his former team Jordan scored wins for Heinz-Harald Frentzen. At the turn of the millennium, the deal with BMW took effect but there was little change in performance, with Schumacher’s first season as a lead driver proving to be indifferent. In spite of this he comfortably outperformed rookie teammate Jenson Button on his way to fifth place and another three podiums.
2001 was a better year for Ralf, as a better Williams package meant a more competitive season for both him and new teammate Juan-Pablo Montoya, who replaced Benetton-bound Button. He took his first win at the San Marino Grand Prix with another two victories in Canada and at his home race in Germany. At Canada history was made as it was the first ever podium to feature brothers in F1 history. 2002 brought another victory for Ralf, although teams found it difficult to stop the dominance of Ferrari, with his win at Malaysia being one of only two races that Ferrari did not win in 2002, although Montoya did outscore his teammate.
Nest season was better for Ralf, who got his final two wins in a week-long period in 2003, winning the European-French double header in the midst of the European season in what appeared to be his best chance of a title win for him to date. He faded from then, and ended up fifth for the season. Ferrari once again dominated 2004 as Ralf’s season is remembered for the wrong reasons, as he broke his back in a massive crash at Indianapolis that ruled him out for almost four months, with Schumacher returning for the final two rounds. He would move to Toyota for 2005
The move to Toyota looked to be a good one, with Toyota’s 2005 car being their quickest to date. The car was very competitive throughout 2005, with podiums a regular occurrence for both Schumacher and Trulli as Toyota finished just twelve points off Ferrari in fourth place. Toyota were less competitive for the start of 2006 as the team initially failed to hit the heights of 2005 in what was to be Schumacher’s penultimate year. Schumacher was only able to make the podium once during 2006, in Melbourne. Points finishes were less frequent, and Schumacher finished tenth for 2006.
2007 was Schumacher’s swansong and proved to be a disappointing one at that. The car was poor, and Schumacher made the points on only three occasions as he limped to a poor sixteenth in the championship. He offered to take a massive pay-cut for 2008, but Toyota refused this as he was outperformed by Trulli considerably. He failed to land a drive for 2008, and subsequently joined the DTM where he has been ever since. That finished an F1 career that brough 6 victories from 180 races.
Ralf’s career may have been overshadowed by that of his brother, who became the most formidable of his generation. But 6 career wins shows that Ralf also had plenty of pace too, and his speed has been demonstrated throughout most of his career. It can be argued that he never quite had the equipment his brother had, but that debate is for another day. Whilst he did not go on to gain and break the records his brother did, one thing that is certain is that Ralf, despite a less illustrious career than Michael, was often a match for anyone.