Our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon reviews Christopher Hilton’s biography of the seven-time World Champion…
Michael Schumacher: The Whole Story, by Christopher Hilton
Paperback, © 2007 J H Haynes & Co Ltd, ISBN 1844254488
Michael Schumacher. To readers of this great website, what more needs to be said of this great Formula 1 driver. Many authors (former ITV commentator James Allen has tried at least twice to my knowledge), have attempted to accurately pen true-to-the-word chronicles of the life and career of the most statistically successful Grand Prix driver of at least this generation.
Christopher Hilton has put forward the best version put on bookshelves to date, even if it appears to be an unauthorised account.
Having read the book, one may be led to think that Hilton has shadowed Schumacher literally from Day One. More realistically however, it could also be argued that Hilton has painstakingly scoured every account, every history book, every issue of Autosport since 1969, every small-time journal that covered the very beginning of Schumacher’s racing career, every newspaper article, every radio interview, has watched every race, every televised interview, every debrief … I could go on … that the name Michael Schumacher has ever been mentioned in or talked about. The only way to disprove any of the information Hilton has included in his book would be either to have been there and witnessed otherwise or to ask Schumacher himself. In some parts, Hilton even describes what Schuey had for breakfast on a particular day. Whether the content of Schumacher’s breakfast was even true or not, why would anyone even bother going to the impossible lengths to try and prove otherwise?
The book has been very well set out. The chapters flow with excellent continuity, maintaining the same format to allow readers to consistently take in the groundwork information about each subsequent Formula 1 season in the same way. Many themes are frequently encountered through the entire book. An example of this would be the way Hilton refers to each Ferrari F1 car as “The Horse”, referring to the Prancing Horse emblem. Ferrari’s drivers since 1969 are referred to as “The Tamers” – hired by Ferrari to win the World Championship each year. And from 1980 until 2000, the Ferrari "horse" remained “untamed”. Each year of Schumacher’s storied career is combed through in extraordinarily intricate detail, painting a great picture for the reader to immerse themselves in.
Progressing through Schumacher’s childhood and adolescence, many of his racing contemporaries (such as future F1 rivals Allan McNish and Heinz-Harald Frentzen and sports car team-mate Joachim Mass), are interviewed looking back at their days lining up against Schumacher on the kart track, the F3 grids, though the Mercedes junior program, through to F1. All of Schumacher’s F1 team-mates, through Andrea De Cesaris, Nelson Piquet, Ricardo Patrese, JJ Lehto, Jos Verstappen, Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa, along with some of Schumacher’s championship rivals in Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso, are all regarded as being worthy, yet as “having the merciless weight of comparison on their shoulders”.
Schumacher’s personal work rate, dedication, ability to build a team around him, unbridled passion for his sport, and overall workmanship form the core of the book. Frequent comparisons to Senna, Prost, Clark, Fangio and other greats of the sport are made, particularly as Schumacher broke records previously held by them, however Hilton rightly makes clear that it is near impossible to compare Schumacher to other greats due to so many variables that come into play during any such judging process.
At times the book can be an uncomfortable read. There are occurrences where Hilton has placed Schumacher on such a pedestal of greatness that it detracts from the whole ideal that Formula 1 is a competition of the best going around today. There is no doubt at the scale of some of Schumacher’s greatest victories, however inferring (whether intentional or not) that at times, Schumacher and Ferrari’s contemporaries are mediocre at best in comparison does lead to some wonder at what message the author is trying to send to the readers. Over and above all, the man and everyone in the Ferrari team are still mortal human beings.
The final chapter focuses on Schumacher’s career in the grand scale of the greatest Germans that have ever existed alongside the greatest achievements in the history of Grand Prix racing. Names such as Einstein and Karl Marx are thrown around, while on a sporting level, names such as Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, both great in their chosen field, are also mentioned. Perhaps for fear of writing the world’s longest press release or even future eulogy, Hilton uses this final chapter to balance out the message by referring to the “disgraces” of Schumacher’s career, those being the infamous incidents with Hill at Adelaide 1994, Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997, and of course, Rascasse-gate. All were less than favourable moments in the on-track life of Michael Schumacher, and the author has rightly made mention of these in an effort not to downgrade or slander, but to provide these moments with the mention deserved in any attempted true-to-the-word chronicle.
Take from the book what you will, and whether you’re a Schumacher fan or not, Christopher Hilton’s book is an entertaining look at a great and inspirational Formula 1 legend.
Using our unique ‘Chequered Flags’ rating system, we award Michael Schumacher – The Whole Story…
OUT OF A POSSIBLE 5.
Michael Schumacher – The Whole Story (Christopher Hilton, © 2007, J H Haynes & Co Ltd, paperback edition) is available at Amazon.co.uk
This review was written by our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon.