Updated: Feb 9
Yesterday marked thirty years since one of the world’s greatest drivers took his first start in a Formula 1 race. But the story is much more interesting than the average driver’s debut, and not simply because the driver was Michael Schumacher. Let’s take a look at exactly what led to Schumacher’s first F1 start in 1991 and what happened during that race.
Written by Morgan Holiday, edited by Janvi Unni
The story really begins with F1 driver Bertrand Gachot, who had signed with the brand new Jordan team for the 1991 season. A week before the Belgian Grand Prix, Gachot was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he had a physical altercation with a taxi driver.
With Jordan being a driver down heading into the Belgian Grand Prix, Mercedes offered to pay the team $150,000 to give Schumacher, who was currently driving for Mercedes in the World Sportscar Championship, the seat. Team boss Eddie Jordan agreed, but not before asking Schumacher if he had been to Spa before, which he said he had. Jordan later found out that this was not, in fact, technically true. Schumacher had been to Spa before, but as a child, and had never raced on the track. All the same, he hadn’t really lied, and he managed to impress Jordan and everyone else with his performance that weekend.
On Saturday Ayrton Senna qualified on pole for McLaren, with Alain Prost’s Ferrari close behind. Schumacher managed to qualify 7th and well ahead of his Jordan teammate Andrea De Cesaris. His luck would run out after that, and on Sunday he retired on the first lap with a clutch issue.
But an impression had been made, and the German driver had caught the attention of everyone in the paddock. Despite the agreement between Jordan and Mercedes that Schumacher would race for them for the remainder of the season, it was Benetton that he ended up signing a contract with. Despite the iconic Jordan 191 being remembered as the car driven by Michael Schumacher, he never even managed one full racing lap in it.
Mick Schumacher driving his Dad’s iconic Jordan 191 at Silverstone in 2021
Following his debut at Spa, Schumacher raced with Benetton for the final five rounds of the 1991 season. He retired from two of those five races, but in the races he did finish he placed fifth twice and sixth once. The rest of the story is history, and thirty years later Michael Schumacher is widely regarded as motorsport’s most iconic driver, and maybe the best there ever was.