Michael Schumacher is considered one of the greatest drivers to sit inside a Formula 1 car. What he achieved during his career was unprecedented and the records he created at the time were unheard of. Yet one thing that stands out when one talks about Schumacher's greatness is what he achieved at Ferrari despite numerous challenges.
Schumacher joined Ferrari as a reigning two-time world champion in 1996. Ferrari had not won a title in more than a decade, so it was rather strange to see Schumacher opt for the Italian team. Yet after a decade of association with them, Schumacher walked away as an F1 legend with an unprecedented seven world championships to his name.
What Michael Schumacher did at Ferrari has gained even more significance in the last decade since he left the team. Ferrari have not won a title since 2008. Even though the team still holds a respectable standing in the sport, it does not have the trophies to show for it.
Throughout the history of F1, the lure of a Ferrari drive has captured every prominent driver. F1 legends like Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have driven for the Scuderia. Yet, none of them could replicate the kind of success Schumacher had.
In the last decade, there were two multiple world champions - Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel - joining the team with high hopes of emulating Schumacher's exploits at Ferrari. However, neither was able to win the elusive title, and they ended up wasting multiple years of their prime.
So, what is it that separates Michael Schumacher from the rest? Here's a look at four reasons.
Michael Schumacher brought the championship-winning combination from Benetton to Ferrari
When Michael Schumacher joined Ferrari, he did not come alone. He brought with him the team that was responsible for his stupendous success at Benetton. Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, the two masterminds behind Benetton's double World Championship, moved to Ferrari alongside Schumacher.
Schumacher did that because he had seen how Ferrari operated in the last few years and had failed to produce a competitive machinery. So he thought that what worked for him at Benetton could be replicated at Ferrari by bringing the masterminds under the same roof.
By doing that, he put together a team that had recently tasted success and was a tried and tested combination. That was unlike the team that had been working at Ferrari for multiple years without much success to show in terms of titles.
That was one of the key differentiators, as drivers like Alonso and Sebastian Vettel who had tasted success in the past left their respective dream teams and started afresh at Ferrari. Vettel specifically left the key trio of Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and Adrian Newey behind him at Red Bull, and put his faith in a new unproven outfit that had not tasted success in quite some time.
Schumacher was shielded from the Italian media and politics
One of the key aspects of being a Ferrari driver is the kind of attention they get in Italy. While it's all good when they are winning, it's not the best environment when they are not. The media in Italy, just like in any other part of the world, can be quite vicious.
To add to that, Ferrari has always been a political mess. There's always some sort of power struggle going on in the team. It is this struggle that is one of the biggest distractions a driver can have while driving in a high-pressure environment.
Alain Prost talked about it in detail about how it used to affect him during his stay at Ferrari. The impact it had on Sebastian Vettel was evident too. The German had one of his worst seasons in 2018 when Ferrari were going through an internal power struggle between Mattia Binotto and Maurizio Arrivabene.
Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, was shielded from all these distractions by the stoic duo of Ross Brawn and Jean Todt. All the media nonsense and the political power struggle that could be a distraction for Schumacher never reached him, as both Brawn and Todt would handle all that.
That allowed Schumacher to focus all his energy on what he did best - driving a Formula 1 car.
Schumacher made Ferrari 'less Italian' in its culture
Ferrari are an Italian team, and they are culturally very passionate and emotional. The team celebrates their victories like no other team, and in the same way, it does not like to lose.
That can lead to a lack of consistency in results. Schumacher, with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn at the top, changed the mindset of the team. Having an Englishman and an Italian leading the Italian outfit meant while the team was still 'Italian' but not to its detriment.
Brawn and Todt were very methodical in the way they approached the sport, and emotions did not play too big a role. That made the team ruthless in its approach, which was evident when Ruben Barrichello was ordered to give his position to Michael Schumacher in Austria in 2002.
Even though Schumacher was comfortably leading the championship, the team did not want to leave even a single point on the table.
That ruthlessness was lagging when Vettel was teamed up with Kimi Raikkonen. That was also the case with Fernando Alonso at the Australian GP 2010 when Felipe Massa would not let the Spaniard through.
Schumacher's team of Brawn and Todt removed emotion from the equation, and the focus was entirely on maximising every result. It was this metronomic approach that helped the team embark on a five-year championship run.
Schumacher leveraged his position as the best driver on the grid
Something that Michael Schumacher could do but the other legends could not was leverage his position on the grid. While Vettel, Alonso or Alain Prost were legitimate talents and certified champions, they were never indispensable.
Vettel and Alonso had the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen who could replace them. Meanwhile, for Alain Prost, there was always a Nigel Mansell or even an Ayrton Senna who could replace him.
Because of that, these drivers were never able to comfortably call the shots in the team and get the changes they wanted. Prost was the only driver who tried to change how the team operated. However, as a result of that, he got himself fired from the team unceremoniously.
For Michael Schumacher, though, that was not the case. He had joined Ferrari as the best driver on the grid, and he had his conditions set before he joined the team. There were certain personnel he wanted to be part of the team, and they were signed with him.
He wanted to be the de facto number 1 driver in the team, and was given that privilege. If there was a direction he wanted car development to take, that was taken care of.
Schumacher came to the team as a prized possession, and he was head and shoulders above the rest of the grid. Because of that, he could bring change to the team, which no other driver could achieve because of a lack of power in the team or foresight on what needed to be done. Schumacher transformed Ferrari into a metronomic machine that would go on a five-year championship run.
Ferrari are the dream team of every F1 driver, and that has been the case for a long time now. However, success at Ferrari is as elusive as anything can be in F1.
Michael Schumacher was a special talent in F1, but he was also someone who knew how to make the most of the situation at his disposal. He achieved success at Ferrari by using its infinite resources and political influence, something no driver has been able to do for more than a decade.
It's not a knock on the legends who failed to win at Ferrari, but it only shows how special Michael Schumacher was.