Michael Schumacher was in Formula One for nearly 20 years, having raced in 19 seasons from 1991-2012. Over this time he accumulated his fair share of rivals, and people who sought to dethrone the most successful man in the sport’s history.
10 – Nico Rosberg
A somewhat strenuous use of the word rival, in Schumacher’s comeback with Mercedes in 2010, young team mate Rosberg outscored Schumacher in each of the three seasons the pair raced together. Nico also won the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, the first win of Mercedes’ return to the sport. Schumacher had his moments, but was never quite on the pace of his younger team mate, who is often your main rival in motor racing.
9 – Kimi Raikkonen
The spiritual successor to Mika Hakkinen, more on him later, Raikkonen showed what he could do in 2002, earning a handful of podiums in a largely unreliable McLaren. It was 2003 which showed he had the ability to end Schumacher’s run of title wins. Raikkonen only won once, his first win coming in Malaysia, but his consistency and ten podiums from a possible 16, saw Raikkonen in title contention at the final round at Suzuka. Second place wasn’t enough and Schumacher won the title by just two points. However the gauntlet had been laid down to the mercurial German.
8 – Rubens Barrichello
In the years where Ferrari reigned supreme, Barrichello was the only real rival to Schumacher. Spending six years as team mates, Barrichello and Schumacher were largely a good pair, though they had their moments. In Austria in 2002, Schumacher was controversially allowed to win after team orders denied Barrichello, who had led all race. Later in the year at Indianapolis, Rubens was given the win on the line as a token gesture from Schumacher. When no one could touch Schumacher, Barrichello put up a respectable fight. The relationship deteriorated in 2010 at Hungary though, as Schumacher, while defending from Barrichello’s Williams, almost pushed him into the pit wall at 180mph. Barrichello said at the time: “It is the most dangerous thing that I have been through.” Schumacher was handed a ten place grid penalty at the next race and apologised for the incident, despite pleading his innocence following the race.
7 – Ayrton Senna
In a case of ‘What could have been’, Senna and Schumacher only spent two full years on the grid together. But in 1994, Senna famously protested Schumacher’s Benetton B194, which he thought was illegal. Following Senna’s early retirement from the Pacific Grand Prix, Senna stood at the first corner and listened to Schumacher’s car go through, claiming to hear ‘unusual noises’ from the engine. It is largely considered that the B194 was an illegal car, but never was proven. Senna’s tragic death at Imola in 1994 robbed Formula One of what could have been an incredible rivalry between two of the sport’s greats.
6 – Juan Pablo Montoya
This rivalry was short lived but just as fiery. At the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix, there was a first corner collision between Montoya and Schumacher. Schumacher’s Ferrari understeered into Juan Pablo’s Williams, but it was Montoya who received a penalty. This was ‘overly harsh’ according to Schumacher. The pair collided at the next race at the next race in Brazil, but much less furore this time. Montoya was best of the rest that season, finishing third behind the dominant Ferrari’s. Montoya was part of the next generation who really challenged Michael’s dominance.
5 – David Coulthard
“I’m very lucky to have raced against the most successful driver in the sport,” Coulthard mused in a YouTube series dedicated to Schumacher’s rivalries. “The relationship evolved to friendship in the end, but in the beginning, a respectful rivalry.” There were infamous incidents in Belgium and Argentina in 1998, where Schumacher collided with Coulthard. The incident at Spa, where Schumacher collided with Coulthard while lapping him, prompted the German to run to McLaren’s garage to fight with the Scot. Thankfully team personnel held them apart. At the 2000 French Grand Prix, Schumacher ‘Angered’ Coulthard after Schumacher swerved to hold off the McLaren off the start. “it was like a sporting slap in the face,” the Scot said. “I reflect on my rivalry with Michael, as thankful to have had the opportunity to share the race track with him. I think racing against Michael made me better.”
4 – Fernando Alonso
One of best contested rivalries over Schumacher’s career. Alonso was the one to finally dethrone Schumacher, winning the title in 2005. “The battles with Michael were the best moments of my career,” Alonso said in an interview. “Going wheel to wheel with Michael was tough. I was intimidated by Michael.” At the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix Alonso and Schumacher had an incredible battle for the lead, with Alonso prevailing with Schumacher on his tail for the final 12 laps. Another example of the mutual respect between the two was the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix, where Alonso overtook Schumacher round the outside of the high speed 130R corner at 180mph. An incredibly difficult move which required respect between the pair, and was executed perfectly by Alonso.
3 – Jacques Villeneuve
The most controversial rivalry on this list, Schumacher and Villeneuve infamously collided at the 1997 season finale at Jerez while fighting for the championship. Villeneuve dived down the inside of Schumacher at the last possible moment, Schumacher was alleged to have turned into Villeneuve to try and take him out, it failed and Schumacher retired. Villeneuve won the title and Schumacher was excluded from it, losing all his points. The counter argument was that Villeneuve wouldn’t have made the corner as he came in too quick. However, 1997 signalled Schumacher and Ferrari were on the rise, and that Williams’ dominance of the 90’s was coming to an end.
2 – Damon Hill
One of the longer lasting rivalries of Schumacher’s career. Damon and Michael came to blows at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix while fighting for the title. Damon made a move on Michael going into a tight right hander. Schumacher closed the door on Hill, with the pair colliding. Michael’s Benetton was sent into the wall and Hill later retired with damage to his suspension from the impact. “I didn’t expect that Michael would be prepared to take me off if I was going to pass him,” Hill said in an interview with the Formula 1 YouTube channel. There were further collisions between the pair in Britain, Belgium and Italy in 1995. While it was a largely respectful rivalry, as most of Michael’s rivalries were, the pair fought hard in the mid 90’s.
1 – Mika Hakkinen
Undoubtedly Michael’s strongest rivalry, as well as Mika being one of the few drivers Michael truly feared. “Challenging Michael it was natural to me, to beat him. But to beat him and challenge him on the race track it was always a fair fight,” Hakkinen said in an interview with Formula 1’s official YouTube channel. This rivalry was incredibly respectful, with both drivers in awe of their adversary’s racing ability. “It’s easy to show frustration in public, and start saying something about your competitor in public, we didn’t start this kind of game,” Hakkinen stated. Arguably the finest overtake in Formula One history was contested between the pair at the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix. On the run down to Les Combes, Hakkinen attempted a move which Michael blocked. Not to be fooled again, Mika tried the move again a lap later while also lapping Ricardo Zonta’s BAR, cutting down the inside of both Zonta and Schumacher, and making the move stick. The late 90’s saw these two light up Formula One with some incredible racing, and Mika brought out the very best in Michael, and vice versa.
Featured image courtesy of Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG