Michael Schumacher: On The Fast Track

33-Year-Old Race Driver Is World's Highest-Paid Athlete

Who is the highest paid athlete in the world? Michael Jordan? Tiger

According to Forbes magazine, it's Michael Schumacher, the German-born race-car driver whose name is a household word in Europe, reports Charlie Rose. A four-time world champion on the Formula One racing circuit, Schumacher, 33 drives for the Italian car company Ferrari.

In a sport known for its danger, speed, and glamour and followed by 300 million fans worldwide, Schumacher is well on his way to making $1 billion. His hat alone makes him a millionaire – that's what he is paid to wear a hat in front of TV cameras.

Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula One Racing, estimates Schumacher earns in the neighborhood of $80 million a year.

He earns this by racing the Formula One cars, which are designed a bit like jet airplanes, around the track at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour.

"If you would go for maximum speed, you would probably go beyond 500 if you wanted," Schumacher tells Rose.

The curves on a course slow him down, but ironically it's the curves that are key to his success.

"I have this natural ability of knowing how fast I can go into this corner, without going out too often. It's an instinct," he says.

At these speeds, even his instincts can fail, as happened three years ago at the British Grand Prix.

"You see the wall coming. You know the speed you do," he recalls, "and you think, 'Oh, that's gonna hurt.' And - initially, I didn't even notice- that that I had a broken leg. I initially felt actually only my knees. Because my knees were squeezed against the steering wheel. And as I wanted to go out, it doesn't sound maybe funny to you, who listens, obviously, I was trying to pull out my legs. But my legs was blocked."

After that crash, he thought about quitting, Schumacher says, but last winter he got behind the wheel again, lured by the beauty – and challenge- of high-speed racing.

Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti says Schumacher's talent lies in getting the most out of a car without overdoing it.

"In other words," Andretti says, "be able to drive the car at the limit, consistently. And that's what it takes. Sometimes - the Ferrari doesn't really have to be the best car that particular day. But because he takes the limit - he runs the cars at the limit all the time - maybe he can make the car the best car that day, anyway. Because he's just that, just that good."

This season, Schumacher won four of the first five races by an average margin of 18 seconds - an eternity in car racing. Ferrari's 2002 technology - and commitment - are overwhelming. The car maker employs more than 550 people to work exclusively on the two cars that Schumacher and his team mate, Rubins Varrichello, drive each season.

Estimates of what Ferrari spends to field its two cars range from $170 to $285 million a year. In other racing leagues, such as NASCAR and the Indy racing league, owners rarely spend more than $15 million dollars per car, per season.

On the other hand, Ferrari doesn't spend a dime on advertising. Italian-born Andretti says the Ferrari mystique - and the Schumacher success - are all the advertising it needs.

Schumacher already has 29 years of racing experience under his belt. He started racing go-carts in Germany at the age of 4. His father managed a small track - and made it the family business. It paid off. Today, Michael races against his younger brother Ralf on the Formula One circuit and it's made them both multimillionaires.

In the beginning, money was important: "I was in very basic - financial family situation. And money was very important. We didn't really have a lot of that. And we were suffering, especially during wintertime, because the business didn't run any more. Renting go carts in the winter, not possible. So, we were suffering."

At 21, Schumacher got his first big payday – a $30,000 bonus in the Formula One minor leagues.

"The first thing, when I got the money," Schumacher recalls, "I knew I would support somebody. And the person I supported was my family. Because we were really in debt with the money. And - so I gave to my father this suitcase full of money. And he couldn't believe it. And that was something very special "

Today, the money buys chartered helicopters, his own private jet and a home in Switzerland where Schumacher races Go-carts and plays soccer with the local team.

At the track, his dedication and focus are legendary. He exercises four hours a day, mostly on the muscles in his neck to fight the incredible G-forces he faces every race. After the workouts, he's back on the test track for hours more to prepare for those two hours on Sunday.

Schumacher insists it's the thrill – not the danger - of speed that keeps him in racing. "Nobody of us wants to die," he says. "I mean, everybody wants to live. We don't do it for the thrill of the danger. We do it for the thrill of speed sensation, being with the limit. But not really wanting to go off and have an accident."

He tells Rose he is most afraid of rain, and that twice in his career he has been caught in the spray from another car and sent into a crash. There also are racing risks he is not willing to take.

One is America's premier auto race, the Indianapolis 500. "It's a step down from Formula One," he tells Rose. "And second, it's too dangerous."

Too dangerous?

"The speed you do, that close to the walls, if you have an accident, there is no way a chassis can survive a certain way of having a crash," he explains. "And that means your legs gonna be heavily damaged, or even further. And I don't see any point in that. I have nothing to prove there. I don't see a challenge in it."

Michael Schumacher already owns almost every significant record. His next milestone could be a record-tying fifth world championship. Still, he's not satisfied.

"You win a race, the next race it's a question mark," he says. "Are you still the best or not? That's what is funny. But that's what is interesting. And that's what is challenging. You have to prove yourself every time."