Michael Schumacher celebrates 20 years in Formula One

The 2011 Belgian Grand Prix was somewhat special for Formula One’s old man from Germany. It was here, 20 years before, that Eddie Jordan gave the young Mercedes–Benz sportscar driver his first chance in F1.

Jordan—who at the moment takes his job as one of the BBC’s color commentators so seriously that he shows up for every Grand Prix in a different shirt of crazy colors—didn’t sign Schumacher because he was such a kind heart with German barely-not-teenagers. The Irishman with the wild hair was in a bind. His Luxembourger driver Bertrand Gachot was in jail for two months after spraying a London cabbie with tear gas. He needed someone to drive his vacant car. Jordan, not Gachot. Gachot had other issues.

Schumacher at the time was driving the beautiful C11 for Mercedes–Benz’s sportscar team, and the team paid Eddie Jordan $150,000 to put Schumacher in the car for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, similarly to how this season Red Bull is paying HRT to have their protégé Daniel Ricciardo gain some track time. He got the job with “a big fib”, as Jordan recalled for the BBC: After a sensational test at Silverstone, Schumacher was asked if he’d been to Spa and he said yes. Jordan, of course, had meant whether Schumacher had raced at Spa. Which he hadn’t.

Michael Schumacher celebrates 20 years in Formula One

In any case, he made it to Spa, ran a reconnaissance lap on a folding bike, and got into the cornfield green 7 Up Jordan, which he promptly qualified 7th—the season’s best result for the team—then retired on the first lap with clutch failure.

It would not be his last race. Jordan lost Schumacher to Benetton immediately after Spa, and when he returned next year for the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix, he beat the dominant Williams FW14B’s of Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese to claim the first of his 91 wins. “He turned up in Formula One with a level of fitness we weren’t used to,” his Benetton teammate Martin Brundle, now Eddie Jordan’s colleague with the BBC’s F1 team, recalled for last weekend’s broadcast. That fitness still carries him, 20 years on, to produce drives like his latest, through the field from 24th to fifth.

Photo Credit: BBC One (Schumacher in gym), Pascal Rondeau/Allsport/Getty Images (Schumacher at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix)