In Good Conscience

Schumi's inability to pass on his skills is tragic for fans, son

With Formula One resuming at Spa in Belgium this weekend, nobody is going to forget Michael Schumacher.

It was here, exactly 25 years ago, that the German great first raced an F1 car.

And here, in 2004, was also where he won his fifth Grand Prix racing drivers' title in a row, finishing an unrivalled seven times as the world champion.

Alas, Michael Schumacher cannot be there today.

He is a victim not of all his years in a dangerous sport, but of his exhilaration for enjoying life.

Born the son of a German brick layer, and renowned as the man with the most wins in Grand Prix history, Schumi lost control while skiing with his 14-year-old son Mick in the French Alps on Dec 29, 2013.

He knows his dad was the best, but unless Michael senior has a miraculous recovery and becomes able to unlock his memory, this is one son who might have to find out most things for himself.

Schumacher's head hit a rock and, despite him wearing a safety helmet, he suffered catastrophic brain injuries.

He was in an induced coma for six months, and while his privacy is closely guarded by the family, he remains in care, supervised by specialists at a purpose-built rehabilitation unit at his home beside Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

Reports that he had walked, even a few steps, had to be denied.

Speculation that his son Mick, already known in F4 racing, is a chip off the old block is, for the time being, simply that. The youth has a famous name and an inherited thirst for living in the fast lane.

But that is all we know, for now. His dad was somebody special.

"What we saw as a driver, and what is still there today," said Sergio Mantovani, a priest at Modena where Schumacher senior had his finest years with Ferrari.

"I know probably more than I want to say," the priest told a German newspaper, Bild.

"But recently I have had no contact. I still pray for Michael. Why this is happening to him and how it will proceed, only God knows the answer."

Six months have passed since Luca di Montezemolo, the president of Ferrari during the Schumacher years, said: "I have news. Unfortunately it is not good."

Life, opined Montezemolo, is strange. Schumacher was a fantastic driver, who only had one accident in F1.

That is a subjective viewpoint. It refers to the 1999 British Grand Prix where Schumacher suffered a broken leg. However, there were other accidents - or should we call them incidents.

Schumacher's will to win was laced with a ruthlessness that brought two other collisions. At Adelaide in 1994, he took Damon Hill off the circuit and, at Jerez in Spain three years later, he rammed Jacques Villeneuve.

Both times, the opponent was a threat to Schumacher's title aspirations. Both times the impact had the same kind of "none shall pass" connotation that we have seen lately from those two Mercedes team-mates, but rivals, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Schumacher was better, and more single-minded, than either of them. In fact, his record has no peer.

From the moment Schumacher was handed a chance seat in a Jordan at Spa as a 22-year-old rookie, he demonstrated his worth.

Eddie Jordan was looking for a replacement because his main driver, the Frenchman Bertrand Gachot, was detained in an English prison after getting into an argument with a London taxi driver and spraying the cabby with CS gas.

Schumacher convinced Jordan he knew the Spa racetrack (aided and abetted by his manager Willi Weber who told Jordan that Michael had driven Spa 100 times).

However, he arrived there days before the race with a fold-up bicycle, through which to get to know the circuit.

That done, he drove the demanding bends like a veteran, and won over the Jordan team.

That was the start of something astonishing. Schumacher won 91 Grands Prix to Alain Prost's 51, Lewis Hamilton's 49, Sebastian Vettel's 42, and Ayrton Senna's 41.

Schumacher was crowned F1 champion seven times. Juan Manuel Fangio won five in his time, Prost and Vettel four, Hamilton three.

No one outside Schumacher's immediate circle, his family, his doctors and his manager, know how much of his past he remembers, or ever will.

The priest is not the only person praying for him.

If he were able to be, who would doubt that Michael Schumacher would be at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend?

This was where his obsession was first demonstrated. He learnt every twist and turn, every bend, every camber on that near-7km road with its legendary high-speed Eau Rouge corner.

And this was one place where his daring, his timing, his obsession with speed and fast corners left all in his wake. Among those, a contemporary who rarely got into Schumacher's slip stream, was Jos Verstappen.

Never a race winner from more than 100 starts, Verstappen has a new drive today. He passed on to his son Max all that he knows, and all that he could glean from faster men, like Schumacher.

Verstappen, now 44, is three years younger than Schumacher, whose home town Hurth in Germany is little more than an hour's drive from Spa.

Both of these racers put their love of high speed into their offspring, and put their boys into go-karts from the get-go.

Max Verstappen has outstripped his father in F1 success. Young Mike Schumacher started racing at nine, using the maiden name of his mother, Corinna Betsch.

Schumacher Jr is a year and a half younger than Max Verstappen. He knows his dad was the best, but unless Michael senior has a miraculous recovery and becomes able to unlock his memory, this is one son who might have to find out most things for himself.

He shared his dad's thrilling physical movements. He possibly had the genes.

But he's on his own.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Schumi's inability to pass on his skills is tragic for fans, son'. Print Edition | Subscribe