Michael, who retired in 2012, is regarded as one of the most talented drivers of all time.
Rival Jacques Villeneuve summed up Michael’s dominance on the track after losing to him at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1996: “He has set an amazing standard which we all have to try to follow. I cannot imagine a harder challenge.”
The sport was aghast in December 2013 when he fell while skiing in the French Alps and hit his head on a rock. The champion was put in a medically induced coma to allow his body to recover.
In his heyday, Michael had a reputation as a consistently ruthless and courageous driver, who would stop at nothing to win. The sportsman has always been fuelled by burning ambition. “It is true my life is geared to winning. It has always been so,” he once admitted.
Born in 1969 in a village near Cologne, Germany, the young prodigy grew up racing. Aged just four he was notching up circuits at the go-kart track near his family home, and by the time he was 18 he was European Champion. But despite his early introduction to the sport, he wasn’t forced into it by his parents.
“My overriding memory of childhood is having the freedom to decide which way to go in life and having my parents’ support,” he told HELLO!.
Michael made his Formula One debut in 1991, and just 12 months later had won his first Grand Prix, driving for the Benetton team. In his first full season he finished third in the championship and in the years to come, was to establish himself firmly at the top of the Formula One tree, winning the seven World titles – five in a row at the start of the Millennium.
In 1995, he left Benetton and signed a multi-million deal with Ferrari which, before their new top driver’s arrival, had not scooped a championship title in 21 years.
Kitted out in the team’s daredevil red, Michael brought back glamour and fame to the success-starved legendary Italian brand.
Michael met his wife Corinna through a former teammate, Heinz Harald Frentzen, who was her ‘ boyfriend at the time. When that relationship came to an end, Michael seized his opportunity and five years later he and Corinna were married in August 1995. They went on to have Gina in 1997 and Mick, who arrived two years later.
Besieged by constant media attention and the pressures of fame, “Schuey” took refuge in his family. He eschewed the jet-set life for one of tranquillity in his home in the Swiss countryside, near Lake Geneva.
Away from the track, he is a devoted family man. His little girl was particularly concerned when the race ace broke his leg in an accident at the British Grand Prix in 1999. “Granddaddy, we need to buy some new brakes for my daddy,” she informed Michael’s dad.
As well as risks, the racing brought great wealth. Formula One’s fastest aquired a £510-million fortune. At the end of the 2006 season, the titan of the track retired – only to come back a few years later.
When he eventually quit the sport for good, the billionaire sportsman threw himself into charity projects, supporting UNESCO, building schools in Senegal and Sarajevo, and supporting homeless children in Peru. It is estimated that his charitable donations total more than $50 million.
The need for speed was always there, however, and he replaced competing with sports such horseriding and motorcycling. Ironically at the time of the skiing accident that posed the greatest challenge of his life, he was only travelling 10 mph.