Michael Schumacher has taken the sport of motor racing to an astonishing new level. There have been magnificently talented, brave and committed drivers throughout racing history, but none has combined all the talents that Schumacher has.
To become world champion is a major achievement. Juan Manuel Fangio did it five times in the 1950s; Jackie Stewart three times between '69 and '73. Schumacher, 36, has done it seven times since 1994, five of those consecutively. His level of fitness has set a new standard in the sport. The vision of an exhausted driver being lifted from his car has been replaced by the sight of Schumacher leaping from the cockpit to the winner's podium after a race in which his body has been subjected to excessive G-forces.
Schumacher also has the ability to think quickly. From my own experience in racing, I know how hard it is to drive at full speed and at the same time plot the position of the other cars on the track. A well-timed pit stop can allow a driver to rejoin the race while his opposition is held up by slower traffic, letting him leapfrog race positions. Schumacher is a past master at this maneuvering, as well as at taking in information from his crew, monitoring any faults in his car and noting changes in track surface conditions.
In fact, he has become so successful that the most exciting racing often takes place somewhere behind the leader. Still, watching Schumacher compete is a chance to see the most complete driver the world has known give a master class in motor racing fitter, smarter, faster and, perhaps, luckier than anybody else. If his opponents can't come up with a way to beat him, he may have to do a season with one arm tied behind his back.
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