On January 3 1969, the man who would go on to become the most successful Formula 1 driver of all-time was born in Hurth, Germany.
50 years on, his legacy is still felt by everyone in the sport to this day and will continue to do so for many more years.
Whether you view him in the red of Ferrari, the silver of Mercedes or the Blue of Benetton, whether you see him as the benchmark, the greatest, a cheat or a villain, you can’t escape from the fact he was one of a kind and left a mark no one else has before or since.
Michael Schumacher is still recovering from the injuries he suffered in a skiing accident in December 2013, a cruel reminder that even the great are still human.
While his condition remains unclear and guarded from public life, Schumacher’s ruthlessness, dedicated, passionate persona reminds F1 fans of the memories he left behind.
To celebrate the seven-time world champions 50th birthday, here are some of Schumacher’s greatest rivals and peers remembering him in their own words.
“Michael treated his driving career as though it was a mission to which he dedicated himself completely from the first to the last day. He had a spare capacity that not many drivers had. Most other drivers would be breathless, having to give everything they had.
“I think his application was at a different level to anyone prior to him, both in the car and outside the car. He took his involvement in a team and worked with the engineers to a new level.
“I recall when I was at Ferrari, if we had something we were uncertain about, Michael would be banging my door down to talk about it and spend time with the engineers and work until he got himself comfortable with what was going on. That motivates a team and can be a catalyst for people to look at things in a different way or different perspective.
“For me, he was [the most complete driver I ever worked with]. I didn’t work with Ayrton [Senna], I didn’t work with Alain Prost, but for me he set new standards in his period.”
“It was immediately apparent how special he was. But beyond his skills as a driver, I just grew to love the guy in every respect. We developed together. We moved into that electronic age together and both knew how to exploit it. I think we had complete trust in each other and on top of that, in my mind he was one of the nicest guys I ever worked with.
“Michael was able to drive a car much closer to the stability limit than any of his peers. Whether it’s a car or a jet fighter, if you can drive near the stability limit you get great response and performance. That was his strength. We didn’t design the car around Michael; we weren’t that clever. But we did set it up around him. So the car was really quite oversteery and no one else could drive it like that.
“Michael wasn’t flawless of course. Some of those incidents he’s infamous for are a reflection of his incredibly competitive nature and the fact that his first reaction is competitive before ethical. But none of them was premeditated. It was heat-of-the-moment competitive panic. I honestly think he would never do anything premeditated andI suspect afterwards he was always full of remorse. And that includes when we won the ’94 championship in Adelaide. At the time I didn’t think that was deliberate but after Jerez ’97 and Monaco ’06 you think, ‘Yeah, that was probably one of one of those’. But I’d never criticise him.”
“Pictures of him [Schumacher] hang everywhere in my offices and apartments. The time with Michael will always be remembered as the best of my life.
“When people ask me what is my best memory that’s Suzuka in 2000. Michael is world champion after 21 years. I remember saying to Michael, ‘On a professional level, things will never be the same again.’
“I found him awe-inspiring. I raced against him in Suzuka, I was following him right on his gearbox in torrential rain and I was watching his car control and he was like a magician. He seemed to be going off all the time and yet he didn’t.
“So I am in total awe of his ability and competitive spirit but I think his philosophy about sport was slightly different from mine.
“His legacy is huge. He’s such a massive star in Germany, where everybody believed he could walk on water. Although I didn’t agree with his approach to sport, I know the pressure he was under. I was in the eye of the storm myself a little bit, when everybody wants to know about everything that happens in your life.
“Whatever my feeling was about Michael and the way he went about his career became irrelevant. From a human point of view, it was so upsetting.”
“Racing against Schumacher was always a big challenge and for me and that was a great motivating factor. You have to remember that we are talking about someone who won the world championship seven times in his career
“I massively enjoyed my Formula 1 career, and one of its highlights was my ongoing rivalry with Michael. I respected him, and I think he respected me. We raced each other hard, but for the most part we also raced each other fairly. He was a terrifically combative competitor, but you could say that about all the great champions. You do not win seven world championships by being soft-hearted, and Michael was never that; but he was a superb driver, one of the best in the history of the sport in fact.”
“It’s difficult to choose [the best driver I have faced]. Obviously, if I have to say one, it will be Michael. Not because any particular reason it was just because when I got to Formula 1 Michael was dominating the sport.
“[When] you are in go-karts and you see Michael winning, you are different categories, you see Michael winning, and then eventually you find yourself fighting [him] wheel-to-wheel.
“So, those battles were definitely special, or more emotional at that time.
“I think we had, and probably have right now, the most talented generation. Because all drivers now they are more prepared.
“They get more time in the simulator, in different young driver programmes, so they go to Formula 1 with a level that was unthinkable a decade or two decades ago.”
“I always saw Michael as a teacher, as a master. I had a close relationship with Michael. I was young and eager to absorb all the knowledge of a seven-time champion, and Schumacher treated me very well. He was an example.”
“He was my hero. I used to have posters on the wall of him. I met Michael for the first time when I was seven. Then, later, I got to know him as a person, and he was always there for me, with a word of advice or help.
“For me, he is the best driver we have ever had in terms of talent, skills, passion and willpower. He will be remembered as the best driver in history.
“I think he was uncontested both in terms of talent and his attitude to sport – the devotion, the work, the will, always to give more than anyone else.
“Of course I wish him the very best and hope that he will continue to fight the battle and come back some time.
“I miss his opinion, his advice, his expertise.”
“His dedication was unbeatable. It was a really eye-opening experience [being team-mates with him]. I didn’t see him, or accept him, as a mentor, for me he was my extreme rival [at Mercedes]. He was like god in the team, when he entered a room everyone stops working.”
“He had a huge influence. He is my idol and I’m following everything he did and trying to look at something I could use myself. He had a huge role in how I’m driving now.”