Early Years (1969 - 87).
"He was never really afraid of anything, and everything he did, even then, he did with intensity."
- Rolf Schumacher speaking about his eldest son in 1996.
"I had a normal, happy childhood...."
- Michael Schumacher, quoted in The Sunday Times, July 5 1998.
Unlike most of their Formula One contemporaries, Michael and Ralf Schumacher came from a modest background. Michael was born on the third of January 1969 in a clinic in Huerth-Hermuehlheim, near Cologne, the first child of Rolf, a builder, and his wife Elisabeth (pictured left). At the time of their son's birth, Rolf and Elisabeth were living in a cramped two bedroomed flat in Fischenich.
The family moved to the nearby Catholic province of Kerpen-Manheim when Michael was a toddler. This is a very rural and insular region of Germany, as Timothy Collings' wholly patronising description in his otherwise excellent biography of Michael shows: "This is not a land of introspection or pomp, but a land of ordinary people, community values and simple pleasures in which obedience, respect and discipline are valued..." (1) As is implied in this quotation, small Catholic communities such as Kerpen can be very oppressive, especially on a young boy's (sexual) development, and may often contribute to the creation of an overtly harsh superego (as we saw in Chapter One above). Rolf built his little son his first kart soon after the move to Kerpen. The youngster originally drove his lawnmower (some sources say motorbike) engine-powered machine on the local pavements until he hit a lamppost and his parents decided that he would be safer on a real track. Michael joined the local karting club (the Europa Moto Drom, now re-named Schumacher's Moto Drom and owned by the Schumacher family) at the age of four and proved a tenacious racer from the start. Despite competing in inferior machines made from the parts that richer boys had discarded, Michael beat off his elder rivals one by one to become club champion by the age of six - thus establishing himself as a karting star even before Ralf arrived. His parents found that Michael's fledgling career dominated their lives as well. Rolf ended up managing the kart track, whilst Elisabeth opened up a snack bar next door.
Ralf was born on the thirtieth of June 1975 when Michael was six and a half years old. Ralf was a disappointment to his mother, who had always wanted girls and had hoped that her longed-for second child would be one. The stage was thus set for Ralf to develop an inferiority complex from an early age as there was no way that he could compensate for this. In a Sunday Times article of July 1998 Michael provided us with a psychoanalytical gem when he implied that his mother tried to feminise her sons - as children both he and Ralf were made to have long hair and look like girls (2). The harmonious family atmosphere portrayed by Michael's early biographers was shattered when Rolf and Elisabeth were divorced in 1997, the year Michael's first child was born. The divorce was probably due in no small part to the indiscretions of his "playboy" father - witness this tongue in cheek description of Rolf's guest appearance at the 1998 Spanish Grand Prix, courtesy of Michael's one time biographer Derick Allsop: "Rolf Schumacher, having shunted his wife into the matrimonial gravel trap, is walking out with his new lady friend - an auburn haired, younger model" (3).
Friction between parents can have a very detrimental effect on children, as Freud noted in his classic Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: "If there are quarrels between the parents or their marriage is unhappy, the ground will be prepared in their children for the severest predisposition to a disturbance of sexual development or to a neurotic illness" (4). Even if Michael and Ralf's parents' marriage was a happy one when they were growing up (which on balance seems likely), they could still have been adversely affected by the divorce; it is something that neither brother likes to talk about. So far then, Michael's assertion that he had a "normal, happy childhood" (see quotation at the beginning of this section) seems contradicted by the facts: being raised in an oppressively religious rural commune by a domineering obsessive mother and a philandering father can hardly be considered conducive to a stable mental life (5). It is therefore probable that Ralf and Michael's neurotic tendencies, like those of most other people, can be traced back to their childhood.
Ralf followed his brother into karting and received his first machine at the age of two and a half, even earlier than Michael had. Because the Schumacher family were far from rich they had to make a lot of sacrifices for their children's careers, and Michael usually got the best of everything as they could not afford to buy new things for Ralf as well. However, by the time Ralf was twelve they had accrued enough income to be able to provide him with three horses - Sinclair, Clarence and Gigolo (!). As he grew older, Ralf, who inherited his father's burly physique, soon became bigger and stronger than Michael.
The most significant event of the elder Schumacher's early career occurred in 1980 when he and his family visited the world karting championship in Belgium. Michael was particularly impressed by one young lad and was determined to emulate his driving style; his name was Ayrton Senna. With Senna's driving as a guide, Michael began accumulating titles very early: he was German Junior Karting Champion in 1984 and 1985 and won both the German and European Senior Championships in 1987. Clearly it was time to move on to greater things.
1)See Collings, Timothy (1995) Schumacher: The Life of the New Formula One Champion (revised edition), Bloomsbury, London, p.19.
2) See Schumacher, Michael, quoted in The Sunday Times Magazine, July 5 1998. It is perhaps significant that the Schumachers appear to be the only siblings interviewed for the Relative Values series not to provide a picture of themselves as children. Given Michael's comments, it is not hard to fathom the reasons for this.
3) See Allsop, Derick (1998) Formula One Uncovered, Headline, London p.39. Michael made a classic Freudian slip at his first press conference when he informed the watching millions that his father "likes screwing" ("screw" being a German term for a carpenter). See Nottage, Jane (1998) Ferrari: The Passion and the Pain (revised edition), CollinsWillow, London, p.23. This is hardly far from the truth!
4) See Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Standard Edition VII, p.228.
5) It may be relevant to note that fathers in particular do not fare well in this study. Freud's father's numerous failings led his son to postulate an unconscious death wish in all young boys directed against their fathers; Jung's father, despite being a pastor, was too tormented by his own religious doubts to be able to advise the youngster on the ways of the world; Melanie Klein's father virtually ignored her throughout her childhood and openly stated his preference for his eldest daughter Emilie; Lacan's father was too terrified by his own father Emile to be able to assist his son in his frequent clashes with him. Only Alfred Adler, it appears, had a good relationship with Dad. In the Schumachers' case, it was perhaps an unconscious hatred of their father that propelled them towards a racing career, as is suggested by Peter Fuller's claim that drivers are often motivated "by a rebellion against their fathers" (see Donaldson, Gerald, "Formula 1 drivers are sexually disturbed little boys, crazed speed addicts with flat-spotted brains. They are lunatics with a death wish. Have they been…DRIVEN MAD?" in F1 Racing, October 1997). Alternatively, it is possible that their decision to take up racing professionally was motivated by a rebellion against their mother's early attempts to feminise them: Formula One racing, which systematically excludes women, is surely one of the most masculine of all pursuits (see below).
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ã Robin Tamblyn, 2000.
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