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On This Day: 30th June - Ralf through the wears // Celebrating Schumacher's birthday with an annual update

Published by Christine

Ralf Schumacher in his Williams, 2001
Ralf Schumacher in his Williams, 2001Credit: Williams F1

It is Ralf Schumacher's birthday today, and as our series of posts reminiscing on F1 gone by continues, let's take a look at what the German was getting up to on his special day while he was in the sport.

A young Ralf, aged just 21, made his F1 debut in 1997. On the 29th June that year, he lined up on the grid in third place - behind his brother on pole for Ferrari, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen second for Williams. Ralf himself was in a Jordan, he finished in sixth position, picking up one point. That's not all bad, despite starting third, as this was a Grand Prix where at least half the field didn't make it to the end of the race. One point was at least something, even if Michael had gone on to win.

The very next year, Ralf found himself in France once again. His Honda-powered Jordan was not quite so lucky this time, though, and although he qualified sixth, Ralf finished three laps down on everyone else. Still classified, but way out of the points. His brother was at the sharp end, and of course, won it.

By 1999, Ralf had jumped ship and moved to a Winfield sponsored Williams. Qualifying at Magny-Cours was a difficult matter, as the weather played a big part. The wet conditions continued through to the race, and Ralf made his way up from a 16th place grid slot, to a fourth place finish. He just missed out on the podium, but picked up four points - not a bad way to prepare for your birthday.

Into the new millennium, and R Schumacher spent his birthday, 30th June, circling the track for Free Practice... in France. Getting a sense of déjà vu? BMW had teamed up with Williams by now, and the car was a little stronger. Ralf obviously put the effort in during practice, as he qualified fifth and finished in the same position. As an aside, this was the race where Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard gesticulated to each other and James Allen made his commentating debut. Coincidence?

Now, in 2001, things were really hotting up. Yes, I'm afraid we are still talking about France, but our Ralf took his first ever pole position. A certain rivalry was building up between the two siblings, as at previous races some 'swerving' had occurred. With the pair lining up next to each other at Magny-Cours, and Ralf finally getting the edge, it was going to be a tense start to the race. Ralf wasn't worried though:

We get along fine. Just as it was at the Nurburgring it will be tight again maybe. I just hope I get a good start and go away from him. That would be the perfect scenario.

- Ralf Schumacher

It was a Schumacher 1-2, but it was Michael that took the winner's trophy.

In 2002, the calendar was shifted so that Ralf could actually have a weekend off on his birthday. The following year, though, things were back to normal, and our hero got the best present he possibly could. On the 29th June, he started third on the grid and he went on to take the chequered flag, winning the race. It was his sixth and final victory in F1.

From such highs to terrible lows, as twelve months later, Ralf was injured in a high-speed crash at the Indianapolis circuit. After the incident, he was hospitalised with a couple of fractured vertebrae and flew back to Austria the next day. On his birthday, he received the news that it could take three months for him to recover. Writing on his website at the time, Ralf said:

To be honest, I imagined my birthday would be rather different. Yesterday's diagnosis was a real blow. But so be it. What's happened has happened. The injury is worse than feared. I have to get through it.

- Ralf Schumacher

He missed six races, but recovered in time to participate in the last three, and even score a second place in the penultimate round.

In 2005, Ralf's Williams career was over, and he moved to Toyota. Ahead of the French Grand Prix, he had suffered a similar, although much less severe, high-speed crash at Indianapolis, which led to the boycott that we all remember so well. He was fine and ready to take part in Magny-Cours though, and brought Toyota some much needed points - starting 11th but finishing 8th.

The final two years of Ralf's F1 career saw his birthday celebrated in a rather downbeat fashion. In 2006, the 30th June was all about Free Practice for the USGP, but Ralf retired from that race ten laps from the finish. In 2007, we were back to France, and RSC's Toyota finished 11th, one lap down.

Since retiring from Formula One, Ralf's been spotted in the DTM series, but when all the new teams descended on F1, his name was linked with several of them. Perhaps we will see another Schumacher comeback? And another birthday tale can be added to our list.