Born on June 30th, 1975 in Hurth-Hermulheim in Germany, Ralf Schumacher has enjoyed Formula One success, following in the footsteps of his older brother Michael and racing in motorsport’s elite series.
Ralf started karting at a young age, and this is partly in thanks to his older brother’s desire to also race. Ralf’s parents owned a go-kart track in their home town of Kerpen. Under Michael’s tutelage, Ralf learned quickly and was soon winning contests in Germany. In 1995, Ralf finished third in the German Formula Three championship, also winning the prestigious Macau Grand Prix. A move to Japan in 1996 saw Ralf win the Japanese Formula Nippon crown, and Formula One beckoned from this success.
As with his brother Michael, Jordan was the team to give Schumacher Jr his break. Although he did a test for McLaren, the shrewd style of Eddie Jordan ensured that the Irish Team were to be the squad that introduced another Schumacher to F1.
His first race though was to be one he would want to forget. Partnered with Giancarlo Fisichella – a young Italian who had competed in a handful of races for Minardi the year previous – Jordan was taking a gamble with two young rookies in his cars. The Australian Grand Prix didn’t do much to relieve Jordan’s worrying mind though, as Ralf ended up taking both himself and his team mate out of the race in a silly incident. However, the Jordan car was quite competitive, and it was clear that with more training, these two young drivers could be successful. By the third race of the year in Argentina, Ralf managed a podium in third place. This was however, to be the highlight of Ralf’s year as his team mate went on to comprehensively beat him.
1998 was a different year altogether though. Giancarlo Fisichella had departed the team for bigger and better things, and Ralf was retained and partnered with the 1996 world champion, Damon Hill. Although Hill was in the final years of his career, the Jordan car carried the momentum from the previous year and it soon became very clear that wins could be on the cards. This finally happened at Spa Francorchamps when Ralf begrudgingly followed Damon over the line in second. Ralf felt that in the closing stages of the race his car was performing better, but Eddie Jordan intervened and forced the younger driver to hold station, allowing Damon to win his final race and Jordan’s first.
This incident prompted Ralf to look for a drive elsewhere the following season. Knowing that a deal had been struck between BMW and Williams, Ralf went knocking on Frank Williams’ door, and surely enough, Schumacher Jr became a Team Willy driver for the 1999 season. However, the BMW deal wasn’t to come into effect until 2000, so Ralf had to endure a year with the aging Supertec engine in the back of the car. Although the Supertec was in essence a re-badged Renault, the plant was old and underpowered and this led to a disappointing first season with the team. Ralf managed three podiums that year and finished in sixth in the title race. His move from Jordan though was an error of judgement on Ralf’s behalf, as his replacement, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, had left Williams to join the Irish squad and managed two victories. At one point in the season, it looked like Jordan could have been championship contenders.
2000-2004: The Williams Years
2000 was hyped to be a better year for Williams and for Ralf. With the BMW engine now in the back of the car the team were expected to be challenging for wins and titles. However, Ralf’s performance was regarded by many as disappointing, and the young German only managed to equal his previous year’s record of three podiums.
2001 was a better year, Ralf picked his pace up and the team began to improve steadily. Schumacher won his maiden Grand Prix at Imola, and went on to win in Canada and Germany; his home race. 2002 was a bit of a let down, and Ralf only managed one win in Malaysia. This was compounded by the improvement of his Colombian team mate, Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished ahead of him the championship.
2003 was a rebound year to his disappointment of 2002. Ralf scored two wins in Germany and France, and along with Juan Pablo Montoya, the team finished second in the constructors championship. Montoya came close to winning the drivers crown, but a penalty towards the end of the season meant that the title remained elusive from the team and driver.
Buoyed by this upturn in performance, Schumacher stayed with Williams for 2004, and although the car was competitive, it wasn’t a race winner and Ralf’s mind turned to other teams as he considered his future in Formula One. However, at the United States Grand Prix that year, his future was almost decided for him as Ralf was seriously injured on the high banked curve at the final corner of the circuit.
His accident was one of the most severe in Formula One history, with the acceleration measured at 78G. Ralf suffered concussion and two minor fractures to his spine. The Grand Prix went ahead, but because of fears over the tyres (the apparent cause of the accident), all Michelin-shod teams withdrew and the resulting farcical of the race has gone down in history itself, with only six drivers actually competing.
2005-2007: The Toyota Years
With a fairly quick recovery period, Ralf was soon racing again, but the performance of the Williams was not to the standard that Ralf had hoped for and the German race winner moved to Toyota for 2005. Lured by big cash and a team with a big budget that were surely on their way up the grid, Ralf was partnered with Jarno Trulli – an ex-Minardi and Renault driver who had just win his maiden victory at Monaco the year previous.
However, Ralf was comprehensively beaten by Trulli until the final few races. Toyota updated the car and it was more to Schumacher Jr’s liking. Ralf took pole position in Japan and finished third in China. This sudden change earned Ralf many points and he finished the title race two points ahead of Trulli, and the team finished in a record sixth.
With the success of 2005, Toyota talked of wins for 2006 and they maintained consistency by retaining both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli in the cars. However, the car was off the pace in the early part of the season and all the hype had been dashed from the off-set. Ralf managed a fourth place in France, a circuit he seems to enjoy, and the team secured a second row qualifying result in Japan; although these Japanese results seem to be more corporate than anything. Toyota seems to run their cars lighter in qualifying at this event in order to gain exposure, publicity and pride in front of their sponsors. However, the lack of fuel means the cars do not perform as well during the race, and this story of strong qualifying and poor races has been the norm for Toyota in 2006.
2007 had been another year of hype for the Japanese squad. Again they retained both drivers and redesigned the car into the TF107. But if Ralf thought things couldn’t get any worse for him, they did just that. Again, from the very first race it was clear that the Toyota was not as competitive as the team had hoped for, and Ralf seriously struggled to set it up for the races. The German driver only finished in the points on three occasions during the year and finished his campaign on a paltry five points in sixteenth place. Jarno Trulli in the sister Toyota faired a little better, certainly in the first half of the season, but las the Italian could only muster eight points himself.
Facing the prospect of the team struggling to build a decent car, Ralf decided to leave the team and look elsewhere for a drive. In December he tested for the recently re-branded Force India squad at Jerez in Spain alongside Giancarlo Fisichella. However, shortly after the test Ralf dismissed the team from his future and accepted he may have a very quiet 2008 spending more time at home with his family.
Beyond Formula One
Outside of motorsport, Ralf is married to Cora and soon after their wedding in 2001 Schumacher’s son David was born.