Races

Twenty-two years ago this month, Michael Schumacher won at Imola and Ferrari was on its way to its first World Drivers’ Championship in more than 20 years
Words: Gavin Green

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is held at Imola this Sunday. A Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, is comfortably in the lead of the 2022 World Championship and Ferrari enjoys a healthy advantage in the Constructor’s Championship. Ferrari has dominated the season so far: fastest driver, best car.

 

The parallels with 22 years ago are palpable. Now, as then, Ferrari is enjoying an F1 renaissance. Now, as then, a young driver is eyeing the prospect of joining the distinguished rollcall of Ferrari World Champions. 

 

It’s been 15 years since a Ferrari driver was last crowned champion. Back in 2000, it had been 21 years, although there were three constructors’ titles in that period to ease the pain.


Just as Charles Leclerc eyes history in 2022, so did Michael Schumacher 22 years ago.

Michael Schumacher is, by some margin, the most successful Ferrari F1 driver of all time with 72 GP wins and five world titles

The San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, held on 9 April 2000,  was round three of the world title race. Schumacher ventured to the Emilia Romagna circuit, east of Bologna, eyeing a hat trick of Grand Prix wins. The German had won in Australia and Brazil, although defending double World Champion Mika Häkkinen was on pole for both races in his McLaren-Mercedes. In both GPs Häkkinen had reliability problems. This meant Schumacher was nursing a healthy championship lead as the drivers journeyed to Imola. Again, the parallels with 2022 and defending World Champion Max Verstappen, are clear.

 

Imola occupies a special place for Ferrari, and the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari is a place where the Scuderia like to win

Imola occupies a special place for Ferrari. First, it’s in Italy, so, as with Monza, the tifosi will be vocal and waving red. Just as important, the circuit is named after Ferrari’s founder and his son. The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari is a place where Ferrari likes to win. 

 

Back at Imola in 2000, Schumacher was disappointed after Häkkinen outqualified him again. He started the race from second on the grid, ran second early in the race and then battled the Flying Finn hard throughout. He saw his chance when Häkkinen made his second scheduled pit stop, ‘pushed very hard’ to extend his lead, and stayed in front after his second lightning-fast stop. He won by just over a second. 

 

Three wins out of three and Ferrari look set for its first World Drivers’ Championship since Jody Scheckter back in 1979. But Formula One is rarely predictable… Häkkinen fought back, won four races, and as the Italian GP loomed in September, the McLaren driver led the title race. F1 fortunes can change fast, as Charles Leclerc surely knows. 

 

Having started second on the grid Schumacher won the race by just over a second

Thankfully for the Scuderia, at Monza Schumacher led his teammate Rubens Barrichello to a Ferrari 1-2. The mercurial German went on to win the remaining three Grands Prix, wrapping up his first world title for Ferrari.

 

It was his first of five consecutive driver titles for the Scuderia. By some margin he is the most successful Ferrari F1 driver of all time: 72 GP wins and those five titles. Niki Lauda is far behind, with 15 wins and two world titles. 

 

His 2000 championship win was close. By comparison, 2001 saw total dominance. Schumacher won nine races and scored more than double the points of his nearest rival. His final 2004 championship victory was even more emphatic: he won 12 of the first 13 races and won 13 races out of 18.

 

He raced for Ferrari for two more seasons, retiring at the end of 2006. He took on the role of team ‘super assistant’, before joining the new F1 Mercedes-Benz team. In 2013, just a few weeks short of his 45th birthday, he suffered a serious brain injury while skiing and is still rehabilitating.