In the town of Hürth in the Rhine valley in 1969, was born a phenomenon. His name, now synonymous with Formula 1, Ferrari and of course, Germany. Michael Schumacher. It has been nigh on eigth years since we last saw the legend on track, and even now, his name shines bright, in the hearts of Germans and other racing fans such as myself, alike.
In the course of my travels in Germany as a student, I found myself spending a few hours in the incredible city of Köln. It is city with a lot to offer, from its magnificent cathedrals, to its nightlife, to the Rhine riverfront. But alas, my time in the city was short. As a lifelong fan of racing, I was well aware that the private collection of racing cars, helmets, go karts; a veritable ode to one of the greatest racers this world has ever seen, was open to see in the very same city. The private collection of Michael Schumacher. I shall definitely visit Köln again, and I shall explore the city the way it deserves to be, but even with just a few hours at my disposal, I left Köln beaming widely, all the same.
Entering the House of God
The collection is housed in a beautiful glass building, its front dominated by an array of some of the most expensive, high-performance supercars parked in a grid formation on the wall, as if it were a vending machine for the billionaires of the world. The fact that the same building houses an impressive sportscar dealership and a rental service, complete with the sounds of supercars and their massive engines, of power tools and a beautiful collection of old and new rental cars on offer, just adds to the occasion. Even spectators uninterested in automotive technology will feel the sense of occasion of the place. If you are a motoring enthusiast, it is enough to make you froth at the mouth.
I reached the entrance, and realized that the collection was completely free to view. I must admit I smiled a little at this revelation, as I knew very well that I would have been happy to pay any amount to be able to see everything inside that building.
Candyland for Engineers
As I walked in, I remember feeling a sense of calm, almost a sanctity of sorts. I was surrounded by some of the most exclusive, expensive and exquisite cars ever made, and yet I only had eyes for the overlooking gallery, that housed the rides of the champion himself. It was almost as if the sense of occasion around his championship winning Grand Prix cars was so great, these amazing supercars served as an ‘amuse-bouche’ to the mail meal. I walked to the open staircase that led to the gallery, and parked on stilts 20 feet in the air, right beside it, was the Benetton B194, the machine that took Michael to his first Formula 1 World Championship in 1994. It was an extra ordinary looking racecar. An engineer relishes the thought of being able to see the underbody of such a car, as that is where it derives a lot of its performance. The way the B194 is positioned, it does just that.
The collection houses a wide range of Schumacher paraphernalia, including his old go karts, race suits, a beautiful glass case filled with racing helmets and other racing gear. Being perhaps the most decorated Formula 1 driver, there is no shortage of his trophies from a few of his eye watering 91 Grand Prix victories and 155 podium finishes. But the most dominant are his championship winning racecars. Anyone who has even heard his name would know that some of the cars I am talking about are very big, very red, and very Italian.
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari are names that have been linked indefinitely. The period of dominance he enjoyed with them was fascinating, and filled with amazing stories. Most racing fans would argue that it set in a monotonous mood to the World Championship, and I would agree, but that by no means takes away from the impressiveness of it all.
The biggest draw for most people, would perhaps be the F2002, the most dominant Ferrari that Schumacher drove. There is a saying in the F1 engineering community, which goes as, “If it looks fast, it probably is fast”. This car is the very embodiment of that saying. It was truly an honor to find myself amongst these icons on wheels, marveling at their amassed glory.
The Beauty in Green
I would like to give a special mention to the Jordan 191, the car that in some funny circumstances, gave Schumacher his F1 debut in 1991. It deserves a mention because it is easily one of the best-looking Grand Prix cars ever made, and a personal favourite of mine. The car raced at the unforgettable Belgian Grand Prix, where Schumacher impressed the whole paddock on debut, and it sits proudly amongst all the others, here in the collection. Spa would also prove to be the sight of Schumacher’s first Grand Prix victory.
The racing career of Michael Schumacher was not without its own questionable actions, controversies, and regrets. But the thing about Michael Schumacher is that his greatness lies elsewhere. It lies beyond the racetrack. It may be found in scenes from movies like ‘Cars’, with characters fainting at the mention of his name, in the eyes of the racers of today, who in their childhood stayed up past their bedtimes to watch him drive his Ferrari to victory, and in the hearts of millions and millions of fans who came from countries and backgrounds hardly suited to the glamorous life of Formula 1, and yet somehow managed to learn his name and feel the weight of his greatness. Fans such as myself.
The Netflix documentary that recently featured his life away from the track, also gave us a look beyond the shiny tinted race visor, and showed us the man behind the driver. It only served to make is greatness even more apparent. I would very much recommend watching it, just as much as I would recommend visiting this amazing collection. Auf Wiedersehen, Michael.
Prateek V. Patankar
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