As Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez know all-too-well, being team-mate to a great driver in Formula 1 is no easy task. They are far from the first to face such a challenge, which has led to a request from Fearghus Butler of The Race Members’ Club to rank the team-mates seven times world champion Michael Schumacher had during his illustrious career.
The ranking is based purely on the performances of the 11 drivers when they were Schumacher’s team-mate and is not an evaluation of their relative merits across their whole F1 career.
Qualifying and race performances are key, as are longevity and the role each driver played in the team alongside Schumacher.
11 JJ LEHTO (BENETTON 1994)
A broken neck sustained in a pre-season testing accident at Silverstone ruined Lehto’s big chance with Benetton in 1994. He rushed back before he was ready, eager to avoid losing the drive, and struggled before being benched after four races.
While Schumacher racked up three wins and a second (his famous stuck-in-fifth gear second place in Spain), Lehto managed just one point, for sixth in Canada – although he did miss out on third place with an engine failure in Spain. But most telling was the huge qualifying gap between the pair: an average of 2.2s.
Lehto almost certainly owes his lowly ranking here to the neck injury, but it’s impossible to put him any higher given his struggles.
10 ANDREA DE CESARIS (JORDAN 1991)
Schumacher’s F1 debut for Jordan at Spa in 1991 is celebrated for his remarkable qualifying performance, which was then almost immediately followed by retirement with a clutch problem. But it’s often forgotten that de Cesaris came close to winning that race.
After qualifying seven tenths of a second behind Schumacher, de Cesaris was chasing down leader Ayrton Senna, who had gearbox problems, in the closing stages when he suffered an engine failure thanks to a lack of oil. This was a consequence of Cosworth making a piston-specification change that the team hadn’t been warned about that led to increased oil consumption.
That was de Cesaris’s sole outing as Schumacher’s team-mate, but he did enough to avoid being on the bottom of the list.
9 JOS VERSTAPPEN (BENETTON 1994)
Verstappen was a man in demand after his notable testing performances for Footwork in 1993 and Benetton snapped him up as test driver. That became a race drive for the opening two races thanks to Lehto’s neck injury.
Verstappen’s debut is well known for the airborne shunt triggered by Eddie Irvine but after two solid outings he made way for Lehto. He returned following an absence of four races and had six more outings alongside Schumacher.
He performed marginally better than Lehto, but was still 1.9s off Schumacher on average in qualifying. However, he did earn a pair of third places to take eight points, which was still only 16% of the tally taken by Schumacher in those races.
8 NELSON PIQUET (BENETTON 1991)
For the final five races of his F1 career, Piquet was Schumacher’s team-mate at Benetton. Despite being one of only two of Schumacher’s team-mates to outscore him – albeit only by half-a-point – the triple world champion was beaten in qualifying four times out of five.
Schumacher’s performances effectively ended Piquet’s career, with Benetton deeming the Brazilian surplus to requirements for 1992. But on his final F1 outing, Piquet did outqualify Schumacher by a couple of tenths on the streets of Adelaide.
7 RICCIARDO PATRESE (BENETTON 1993)
Patrese switched from Williams to Benetton as Schumacher’s team-mate in 1993. After a poor start to the season, with an average qualifying deficit of 1.1s across the first four races, there was even speculation Patrese might be replaced.
But while Patrese’s form improved a little, claiming a third place at Silverstone and a distant second behind Williams driver Damon Hill in Hungary after car changes the team was reluctant to commit to previously, he managed just 20 points compared to Schumacher’s 52.
The struggles against Schumacher effectively ensured F1’s then-most experienced driver’s grand prix career came to an end.
6 JOHNNY HERBERT (BENETTON 1994-1995)
When Herbert was flung from Team Lotus to Benetton (via Ligier) for the final two races of 1994, he was hailed as the solution to the team’s long-standing struggle to find a suitable team-mate for Schumacher.
Despite struggling in qualifying, partly thanks to braking struggles that were a legacy of his horrific F3000 crash in 1988, Herbert performed well in the races and was twice there to pick up the pieces and win when Schumacher was taken out by Hill at Silverstone and Monza.
But Herbert only qualified and finished ahead of Schumacher once, although his haul of 42% of Schumacher’s points tally in their time together ensured Benetton won the ’95 constructors’ championship. Considering he was often treated more as a number three than a number two, he acquitted himself well.
5 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI 2006)
After three seasons with Sauber, and a year as Ferrari test driver, Massa showed his class once thrust into action as Schumacher’s team-mate in 2006.
In the final year before Schumacher’s temporary F1 retirement, Massa won a couple of races but managed to qualify and finish ahead of Schumacher just over a quarter of the time. Only one driver outqualified Schumacher more often, and Massa’s return of two-thirds of Schumacher’s points tally is best of his three Ferrari team-mates.
But impressive as his Ferrari season was, he just misses out in the battle to be the best-ranked of Schumacher’s one-season team-mates.
4 MARTIN BRUNDLE (BENETTON 1992)
Brundle only spent one season as Schumacher’s team-mate, at Benetton in 1992, but he stacks up better than most of his team-mates judged by several key performance metrics. That gives him the edge over Massa despite going up against a relatively raw Schumacher in his first full F1 season.
He finished ahead of Schumacher 43% of the time and scored 71.7% of his team-mate’s points tally. That’s second only to the driver who is placed first in this ranking. He was so effective that Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore later admitted it was a mistake to drop Brundle, an error rooted in not realising just how good Schumacher was at the time.
The downside for Brundle was qualifying, where he was on average a second off Schumacher and perhaps fortunate that this only translated to an average deficit of 2.7 slots on the grid.
3 EDDIE IRVINE (FERRARI 1996-1999)
Irvine embraced his role as Schumacher’s support act enthusiastically when Ferrari made the surprise decision to sign him for 1996. Despite suffering from dire reliability early on, his managed 58% of Schumacher’s points tally across their three-and-a-half seasons together, which is only just short of what the drivers either side of him in this ranking managed.
Irvine was rarely a threat to Schumacher in qualifying, despite famously beating him in Melbourne at their first race together as team-mates – starting ahead him only 7% of the time. But when Schumacher was sidelined during 1999 after breaking his leg at Silverstone, Irvine did pick up the baton and came close to winning the world championship.
2 RUBENS BARRICHELLO (FERRARI 2000-2005)
Barrichello might not have liked it, but the statistics show he was Schumacher’s most valuable lieutenant. For all five of his world championships for Ferrari, and one-third of the races in his F1 career, Schumacher had Barrichello on the other side of the garage.
While he finished behind Schumacher 80% of the time, albeit occasionally with the assistance of team orders, Barrichello did have his days when he could beat Schumacher fair and square – Silverstone 2003 being a case in point. He also scored 61% of his Schumacher’s points tally, which was a very healthy return.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is that of the 16 grand prix wins taken by Schumacher’s team-mates, Barrichello took nine of them.
1 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES 2010-2012)
The 41-year-old Schumacher who returned to Formula 1 after three seasons out with Mercedes in 2010 was not same driver as the one who once dominated F1. But even so, it’s a foregone conclusion that Rosberg has to be ranked as Schumacher’s best given he was ahead on every performance metric.
He’s the only team-mate that outscored Schumacher over a full season, something he managed three times, and outqualified him 69% of the time. He also racked up 324 points compared to Schumacher’s 97 and took the breakthrough win for the Mercedes team in China in 2012.
While Schumacher did have spells when he was at a similar level to Rosberg and showed flashes of the old magic, overall he was the inferior performer.