Not so long ago, Michael Schumacher had some remarkable records. These included an unprecedented seven world championship titles, 91 race victories, 76 fastest laps, 68 pole positions plus 13 victories in one season. In fact, his tally seemed unbeatable, until now…
In Formula One, fellow countryman Sebastian Vettel is making in-roads into Schumacher’s records while on Sunday, rally superstar Sébastien Loeb clinched an eighth FIA World Rally Championship to become the most successful driver in motorsport history – in a motorsport that’s regarded by many as the most challenging.
The Frenchman’s eighth world championship not only eclipsed Schumacherm but also the achievements of motorcycle legend Valentino Rossi, who also has seven world championship crowns to his name in MotoGP/500cc.
“For sure I’m proud to become the most successful driver in motorsport and feel very happy,” said 37 year-old Loeb, who has amassed 67 wins from 151 starts in the WRC. “We were equal with Michael Schumacher until this week – now we have eight. I don’t really want to compare different branches of the sport but it’s very special. I never thought I’d achieve this when I started my career!”
Having originally competed as one of France’s top gymnasts, Loeb switched to rallying in the mid-90s and came to international prominence after winning the Super 1600 Drivers’ Cup in 2001.
The following year he joined the Citroën factory team and, together with co-driver Daniel Elena, scored a first WRC victory in Germany.
After finishing the championship as runner-up by a single point in 2003, Loeb took his first world crown in 2004 and has mounted seven successful title defences.
The Frenchman’s dominance has cemented his reputation as one of the greatest names in sporting history, and he says he has no intentions of lifting his foot off the throttle just yet. “I started rallying for passion and I feel the same sensation when I’m in the car. I still enjoy rallies – that’s my main motivation. It will not change my life if it’s seven titles, eight or nine. I enjoy the moment and like what I do,” he explained.
Having renewed his contract with Citroën, Loeb will be gunning for a ninth consecutive title when the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship kicks off with the famous Monte Carlo Rally in January. And understandably, the champion’s confident of setting even more records. “We have won eight titles in a row and I can only have the goal to win another next year,” he remarked. “There is no precise plan for the day I stop driving – at the moment, the goal is the next title. I hope I can make it ten titles, but I don’t know. I take everything year after year. For now, my goal is next year; after that I will see…”
While Loeb will start 2012 as the man to beat, he faces increasing rivalry as the FIA World Rally Championship becomes more competitive. This year’s title race went right down to the wire, with Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen mounting a major challenge. And with factory teams from Mini and VW gearing up for full scale attacks in 2012 and 2013, the opposition is set to become stronger.
FIA WORLD CHAMPIONS
Sébastien Loeb (FRA) – 8 titles (WRC)
Michael Schumacher (GER) – 7 titles (F1)
Valentino Rossi (ITA) – 7 titles (MotoGP/500)
Juan Manuel Fangio (ARG) – 5 titles (F1)
Juha Kankkunen (FIN) – 4 titles (WRC)
Tommi Mäkinen (FIN) – 4 titles (WRC)
Alain Prost (FRA) – 4 titles (F1)
Jack Brabham (AUS) – 3 titles (F1)
Niki Lauda (AUT) – 3 titles (F1)
Nelson Piquet (BRA) – 3 titles (F1)
Ayrton Senna (BRA) – 3 titles (F1)
Jackie Stewart (GBR) – 3 titles (F1)