At the end of the 1994 season, Michael had started to doubt his 3-year contract with Benetton F1. Accusations of cheating against the Benetton team had tainted his maiden F1 title triumph, a fact which frustrated him greatly. Willi Weber (who had managed Schumacher’s career since 1989) was beginning to realise that after Senna’s death, Schumi was the hottest property in the sport and there were chances of him moving to other teams for far bigger sums.
Ferrari had been the oldest and undoubtedly the biggest team in the sport but they were going through an extremely rough phase. They hadn’t won the constructor’s title since 1983, the wait for the driver’s championship was longer by 4 years in comparison. Their unreliable car and the poor performing pit crew had become a standing joke. However, since 1993, under the leadership of new GM Jean Todt, the team had greatly improved, winning their first race in 4 years in 1994. In 1995, only reliability problems limited them to a single victory but it was clear that the team was on the up.
Todt had wanted to sign Schumi for Ferrari since he joined the team. Meanwhile, Weber had gotten Schumi’s contract which was supposed to end in 1996 but was reduced at the end of 1995. Todt pounced in and got his man, and a formal contract was signed in July 1995 and Schumi was headed to the prancing horse.
Schumi was taking a risk moving to Ferrari and Weber ensured that the finances made up for it. He was signed for a huge salary (close to $60M for two years) and had control over certain advertising spaces on his overalls. He also had a free hand at signing as many endorsement deals as he wanted besides the permission to use the Ferrari logo in all his merchandise.
Todt was ready to let Michael have all this because he believed Schumi was the key piece in the puzzle which would deliver Ferrari a long due title. Besides having unmatched racing skills, Todt saw a man who could inspire others, and around whom the entire team could be built. He identified that Michael was a man whose life beyond the racetrack-centered around racing too; he literally ate, slept and drank F1 racing, such was his passion for the sport. Such commitment and dedication was hard to find.
A year later, key cogs from the consecutive title winning team at Benetton, chief designer Rory Byrne and Technical Director Ross Brawn joined Ferrari and completed Todt’s dream team. The dream team would lead Ferrari to its most successful period in history as Michael and Ferrari won 5 championships on the trot from 2000-2004.
Till date, turning around a team which seemed to have been underperforming forever ranks at the very top of Schumacher’s countless achievements.