Lewis Hamilton is the current driver who is dominating Formula 1. His recent seasons showcase him breaking all kinds of records and matching others including the most championships. Those records were set by the legendary Michael Schumacher. No one dominated the sport like Schumacher, especially while driving for Ferrari in the early 2000s. He was unstoppable even in sub-par cars. His career began in 1991 racing for Jordan and retired from his first race at Spa Francorchamps.
From that point, he would go on to win seven world driver’s championships with Benetton and Ferrari. Some of his moves on the track were ruthless and competitive to a fault, but there’s no doubt he was one of the fastest ever drivers. Through it all, he managed to secure countless records that stood for more than 10 years.
How Schumacher setup his car to dominate
Schumacher had a unique way of setting up his car. Fundamentally, he would carry as much speed as possible into a corner, turn late into the apex, straighten the car, and accelerate out of the corner. It sounds basic, but when factoring in that he almost never took his foot off the throttle, it suddenly becomes more difficult. He did this by setting up his car to enact more oversteer. While this setup was nearly impossible for other drivers to handle, Schumacher had the reaction speed to swing the car around a corner by constantly blipping the throttle.
Over drivers who were legends of their own time tried driving Schumacher’s car, to no avail. Jos Verstappen described it as “ultimately twitchy at the rear. Its wings and tires all working towards huge front-end grip and a comparatively loose rear end.” It helped that Schumacher had a sixth sense of where the grip was. The car would stall, like an airplane, and spin like a top. Schumacher could control the slide and position his car in a way that was perfect for the corner exit.
Ferrari had the tire advantage
Another advantage Schumacher had was his tires. In the early 2000s when Schumacher was dominating in his Ferrari, teams could pick between either Bridgestone or Goodyear tires. Bridgestone, as it turned out, catered to Ferrari especially, thus tailored tires to fit Schumacher’s driving style since he was the winning driver.
What changed after Schumacher retired?
His first retirement from the sport was after the 2006 season, two years after his Ferrari dominance had come to an end. He returned in 2010 to usher in the new Mercedes AMG team, which took the place of Brawn GP from the previous year. He raced for three years for Mercedes, then duly retired for a second time. His races at Mercedes weren’t nearly as explosive as they were at Ferrari, most likely due to the fact that modern F1 cars prefer much more planted rear ends. This made Schumacher’s legendary setups archaic, and not effective.
There are different schools of thought as to who is the best F1 driver of all time. Many of the fastest racing drivers prefer oversteer, but few had the reaction speed that Schumacher had, that his setup required in order to be effective. He has said he prefers a neutral car, one that doesn’t oversteer or understeer but does the best with what he has. Perhaps with how neutral modern F1 cars are now, from 10 years ago, he could have the car he always wanted.