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Motorsport Moments – How Schumacher won the hearts of the Tifosi at Imola

May, 1996. Having nursed a seized brake disc for almost the entire final lap and fended off a bullish Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher crosses the finish line second overall in the 1996 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, concluding a stellar weekend in which the German seared himself into the hearts of the Tifosi…

He might not have taken the top spot in this year’s San Marino Grand Prix, but it’s fair to say Michael Schumacher’s valiant performance at the legendary Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari this weekend has earned him a lifelong place in the hearts of the Tifosi.

On Saturday afternoon, a deafening wave of frenzied excitement swept across the circuit as the reigning World Champion put his new scarlet F310 on the pole position for the first time, in front of the tens of thousands of fiercely passionate Italian Ferrari fans crammed onto every grandstand, patch of grass and nearby balcony – and the millions more watching their home Grand Prix on their television sets.

“That Schumacher’s suspension simply collapsed on his cooldown lap is telling of just how hard he was pushing for pole.”

That Schumacher’s suspension simply collapsed on his cooldown lap is telling of just how hard he was pushing. It was a proper ‘do-or-die’ moment, in which the German spotted the opportunity to earn the respect and adoration of the Tifosi and seized it, driving the wheels off his Ferrari in the process. For someone aiming to galvanise the Scuderia and turn it into a winning machine, this was a hugely important step.

Much to the ire of the crowds, Schumacher was leapfrogged by the McLaren of David Coulthard at the start of today’s race, and more so when the championship leader Damon Hill wound up in the lead following a string of fastest laps and a great call on fuel strategy from his Williams team.

Halfway through the 63rd and final lap, with Hill way out in front and Gerhard Berger a safe distance behind, disaster struck for Schumacher when his front-right brake disc seized, causing the wheel to lock. Driving with essentially three wheels and a tyre that threatened to explode at any second, Schumacher held firm, demonstrating immense skill to keep his Ferrari in a straight line and cross the finish line ahead of Berger, who was a whisker behind.

With second place in the bag and every last overjoyed Ferrari fan in Imola (and, indeed Italy) on his or her feet, Schumacher has just parked his stricken car and hopped out, hitching a quick lift back to the pitlane and the podium before he’s stampeded by the swathes of fans who’ll soon be admitted to the circuit to join the celebrations.

A corker of a Grand Prix it might not have been, but for Schumacher, who essentially saddled the pressure of meeting 50-million in-laws for the first time today (yes, Ferrari is that big a deal in Italy), it’s one that will stick in the memory on his epic journey to becoming the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time.

The photos in this feature are from the Girardo & Co. Archive, which is our new treasure trove of three-million motorsport images from the 1970s to the present day, all of which are available to purchase directly from the website. Click here to search the archive and buy photos online.  

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