From Senna to Schumacher - The Five F1 Families That Changed Racing Forever

There are a fair few family affairs to be found in F1
10:00, 31 Mar 2021

On 31 March 2001, at Interlagos, Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher recorded his seventh consecutive pole position in Formula One in preparation for the Brazilian Grand Prix the following day.

The season before, the German great had become the Prancing Horse’s first World Drivers' Champion for 21 years, and added more silverware to his own trophy cabinet, to add to his brace with Benetton in the mid-1990s. Schumacher would add another to his collection by the year’s end, for his fourth Championship of an eventual record-setting seven.

The then 32-year old was eagerly gunning for a victory at São Paulo for a more personal reason, to defend the victory he had enjoyed at the GP the year prior, and though he would eventually concede the top of the podium to David Coulthard and McLaren-Mercedes, the occasion was special for a particularly unique reason.

Joining Michael on the frontline the day after would be none other than his younger brother, Ralf.

The Schumacher duo had become the first siblings in the history of Formula One to share the front row of the grid in a World Championship event, having qualified first and second respectively for the Brazilian GP. Ralf, representing Williams, had been pipped to pole by his older brother by three-tenths of a second but impressively recorded his team's highest qualifying position since the 1998 Italian Grand Prix.

Michael and Ralf would actually achieve the unique feat again before the season’s conclusion, by taking the top two positions in qualifying for the penultimate race on the calendar, the United States Grand Prix.

The Schumacher siblings had produced another familial Formula One tale in a sport with long, illustrious proficiency for them. In an industry where only few are chosen to represent at the highest level, these racing relations have helped add an additional layer to why the sport is so special and beloved. 


Fast And Fearless - Aryton and Bruno Senna

Aryton Senna was arguably the greatest, most talented driver in the history of Formula One.

The man who had been diagnosed with poor motor coordination at the age of three, passionate about motor racing from the age of four, and whose first kart was made by his father with the engine of a lawnmower. The Brazilian who would illuminate the sport in the late eighties and early nineties; a three-time International Racing Driver Award recipient, and a triple World Champion before his death in his Williams FW16 on the Imola track in 1994 at the age of just 34 years old.

“If you think I'm fast, just wait until you see my nephew!” Aryton once said of the then-ten-year-old Bruno in 1993. Almost 18 years after Aryton tragically left Formula One, the son of his sister, Viviane, wearing a slightly modified version of his famous uncle's famous helmet, stepped into the cockpit of his own Williams vehicle at the Australian Grand Prix. 

Though Bruno purportedly (and understandably) wanted to escape the world of motorsport following the accident in San Marino and his father, Flávio, also died in a motorcycle crash in 1996. He finally made his F1 bow with the short-lived Hispania Racing in 2010 before being granted a Williams berth two years later, making the same move his late uncle had completed for his last season.


The Family Of Flying Finns - Keke and Nico Rosberg

As of 2021, the last seven World Championships have all been claimed by the powerhouse of Mercedes-Benz. The only person to have interrupted Lewis Hamilton’s streak during that time was the Brit’s teammate, a man who took the crown then swiftly abdicated. 

Nico Rosberg was anointed champion in 2016, 34 years after his father Keke’s own accomplishment.

The chain-smoking Keke was, by his own admission, "a cocky bastard” ("and I know it") who once set a record for the fastest lap ever recorded in an F1 race. The first man from Finland to land a world championship, Keke won only one GP across 1982, beating John Watson (and the injured Daniel Peroni) by just five points for the title.  At the age of his win, his son would have been enjoying his second year of retirement.

Upon Nico’s victory, the two men were allowed the privilege denied to Damon Hill, as father and son celebrated together, tearfully. “Yes, we’re emotional because to us it’s a family sport”, said Keke Rosberg. “Nico knows what it means to me and to him.”


A Legend And A Lasting Lineage - Graham and Damon Hill

Few wouldn’t have had the heart to pity Damon Hill for attempting to follow in the almost inimitable footsteps of his father and British icon Graham, the only driver ever to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport - the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, in addition to his pair of World Championship titles. Damon however ultimately proved that he was more than up for the challenge.

“It’s Villeneuve! It’s Villeneuve! Jacques Villeneuve is out of the race!” Murray Walker memorably screamed as the Williams driver hit the Suzuka Circuit barricades to crash out of the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix and hand the championship to his teammate Damon Hill.

Almost 30 years since Graham’s last Championship, and over two decades after his final fateful fight, Damon was now one half of the Hills that became the first father and son pair to win Formula One World Championships and give Walker a lump in his throat.


The Father And The Master - Jos and Max Verstappen

A story that doesn’t yet have an ending. Max Verstappen has emerged as one of the most prodigious drivers on the current F1 roster and has already moved well beyond the status of simply being on the grid by virtue of his father Jos.

The elder Verstappen, known as the ‘Dutch Devil’, competed for eight seasons beginning in the early nineties, but only ever experienced the podium twice, and that in his debut year.

It’s a tally the 23-year-old Max has already surpassed with Red Bull, with 43, including ten career wins so far, since breaking out as the youngest ever driver in an F1 season at the age of 17 in 2015.

Max’s ambition to break Sebastian Vettel’s record to be the youngest Formula One champion looks to be now in ruins with the postponement of the 2020 F1 season, but the title and ultimate success that proved elusive to his father looks almost destined at some point in the future.


This article was first published in The Sportsman on 07/04/20

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