Video: The Secret to Michael Schumacher’s Speed

When Michael Schumacher waltzed onto the F1 scene back in 1991, he was fortunate, for the times were a-changin’. The 1990s saw dramatically improved reliability, more driveable cars and huge advances in the field of aerodynamics. Fundamentally, the cars of the 1990s shared far more in common with modern machines than with the cars of the preceding era.

Like Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher took F1 fitness into another realm after his arrival, but he might have taken it further forward still. After all, the man hauled a gym around with him to the races. With the incredible stamina he gained from exercising four hours daily, he could turn qualifying laps for the entirety of the race, and with far fewer reliability concerns, he made the most of these newer, more resilient cars.

But his fitness was only one contributing factors to the man’s success. He was great at organizing the team, but, ultimately, his driving ability was his greatest asset. Schumacher’s ability to dance with the rear end of the car has been well-documented, but perhaps never with the telemetry seen in this video.

Even in the days of big downforce, Schumacher used his oversteer to help point the car on entry and exit.

As seen here, the traces of teammates Herbert and Schumacher differ slightly when it comes to throttle application and braking, but notably with steering inputs. Approaching Silverstone’s Bridge Corner, Schumacher lifts off slightly earlier to set up the car to turn in, but regains full-throttle sooner, and only lifts slightly. His throttle application is incredibly smooth as well. Contrasting Herbert’s approach, which is similar but incorporates a bigger lift and a ragged application of the throttle, Schumacher gains an additional 5 mph at the apex.

It’s surprising that such a small change in technique could make a noticeable difference through the course of a corner, but the subsequent explanation sheds more light on the topic. Schumacher’s driving style revolves around a constant, smooth application of the throttle, coupled with unending, minute steering corrections. Whereas many top drivers in the 1990s would pop on-and-off the throttle to rotate a car into the corner and then unwind the steering smoothly, Schumacher pitches the car in, then quickly and smoothly apply the gas. This early, relentless throttle application is balanced with minute steering corrections, so the whole time, Schumi’s car is sliding to an almost-unrecognizable extent.

Schumacher’s ease with a nervous rear end makes him untouchable in wet and changing conditions.

Observing Schumi on a 10/10ths qualifying lap, his car is always, almost-imperceptibly, moving laterally. In other words, it is sliding consistently and every corner is dealt with in a very balletic fashion: the car appear to be alive; never following a constant-radius arc. His setup facilitates this behavior, and even those with a preference for a pointy car — one inclined to oversteer — had a difficult time understanding how Schumacher could be at ease with a machine so nervous, so unforgiving.

It is this ability to wrangle an oversteering machine that ultimately gave Schumacher an advantage in terms of technique, but his setup allowed him to make smaller inputs with greater effect. For this reason, his minimal lift at the entry to Bridge is enough to get the car turned in the right direction. He’s then able to get on the throttle sooner, and if necessary, control any impending slide with his steering. Constantly applying the throttle and dealing with any corrections via the steering is why he could seemingly botch a lap with a big slide, but keep the car moving forward well enough to secure a respectable time. In this regard, there is no driver, before or since, who can touch Herr Schumacher.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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