On the eve of their championship deciding race in Brazil, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso paid tribute to Michael Schumacher, who will start his 306th and last Grand Prix on Sunday, aged 43.
The pair come at it from different angles; Alonso raced hard against Schumacher from when he got a competitive car in 2003 and they contested the 2006 world championship, which Alonso won.
“I think we will always remember the privilege to race and compete with someone like Michael that will be record in history of Formula One, maybe for a very long time and we’ve been there, we’ve been in the grid close to him,” said Alonso. “As Michael said, some good fights and great respect on the circuit and always constantly learning with someone that changed a little bit this sport.”
Their battles in Imola in 2005 and 2006 are among many highlights in the Alonso versus Schumacher history.
Vettel meanwhile, grew up in a Germany which was obsessed with Schumacher’s first career; 13 million Germans tuning in every week to see him win his seven F1 world titles. And Schumacher has clearly been a force of encouragement for the man who takes on his mantle in the eyes of German fans.
“I think it’s a little bit different for me because obviously I had the privilege to meet Michael when I was a small kid,” said Vettel in Thursday’s FIA press conference at Interlagos. “He was my childhood hero, he was a true inspiration back then, for me and for many other kids, as he mentioned, in Kerpen.
“He was taking care of the championship held in Kerpen and came to the last race, gave all the trophies to everyone, every child, more than 100 at the time, so he was very patient and now, obviously, we understand that the busy schedule that he had, taking that extra time for the fans but especially for us, for the kids who were racing, was something very special, a very special memory.
“When I met him the first time, obviously I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t want to ask something stupid but for sure, I remember these moments and then later on. Today I think it’s a little bit different because you are more grown up, you have a normal relationship so when I talk to him now, it doesn’t feel like talking to my childhood hero, it feels like talking to Michael so I see the person rather than what he has achieved but obviously, if you remind yourself of that and the fact that I was racing against him for the last couple of years, unfortunately not as close as he probably shared with Fernando, but still that thought or that image was very very far away when I was a small kid, because obviously he was already in Formula One but for me it was a dream so very far away but very special for the last couple of years, very special the relationship we share and I think he will always be an inspiration for myself.”
* Read all about the background stories to Schumacher’s final season and the decision by Mercedes to replace him with Lewis Hamilton in the new book “James Allen on F1 2012- The Year of Living Dangerously”, published on December 7th at £10-99. JA Signed copies can be pre-ordered by clicking THIS LINK