With this weekend being the 20th anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s debut in F1, there have been tributes aplenty from fellow drivers but none more effusive than from his great rival of the mid 2000s, Fernando Alonso.
“I have great respect for him, he’s one of the greatest or the greatest in our sport,” said Alonso. “The numbers are there and impossible to repeat for us. It’s been a great pleasure to drive with him all these years. I will always remember all the battles with him. It was a priviledge to drive against Michael Schumacher.
“He decided to stop and then come back and now the car is not competitive enough for him to win races, but I’m sure he is still enjoying. There are some criticisms about his results now but I don’t agree with them. Michael was watching the races at home three years ago, now he’s seventh or ninth, but I’m sure he is happy every morning because he is racing in F1. It’s what he wants to do; he’s a driver.
“Twenty years are a lot. If I think of myself it would be 2021 and I don’t think I can do that! I want to congratulate him for these 20 years and tell him it’s a pleasure to race against him.”
The Spaniard wasn’t always so gushing. In 2006 when Schumacher spun during qualifying in Monaco, preventing his rival from taking pole from him, Alonso told Mark Webber at dinner that if the stewards did not punish Schumacher he would lie down on the grid in front of Schumacher’s car to symbolise that the German “rides all over the other drivers”.
In the event this was not necessary as the stewards ruled that Schumacher had spun on purpose and put him at the back of the grid.
Perhaps thinking of this and other moments he wishes hadn’t happened, Schumacher was in philosophical mood this afternoon,
“Taking the 20 years, taking everything that I’ve been doing…. certainly, going backwards, I would do certain things differently, but then in life you have to make some mistakes in order to understand it is a mistake and to sort of set your guidelines..
“All in all, I guess the vest that I’m wearing, that I’m wearing inside me, is pretty white, and I’m pretty happy about this. I don’t have many regrets and overall, I certainly feel very excited and proud of what has happened.”
Earlier he had said, “The rulebook always leaves you certain grey zones and leaves you clear guidelines at some moments. You have always to adapt to those guidelines and to those changes and that’s obviously the limits that you search for and occasionally you may overstep (those limits) and you may take the penalty for it.”
There was a strong show of support and respect for Schumacher from his fellow drivers today. Sebastian Vettel called him his “childhood hero”. Realising he was getting too gushing, he changed tack and said, “I think he’s an OK driver!”
Schumacher’s former team mate Felipe Massa spoke about when he was a boy in Brazil and Schumacher seemed to him to be a phenomenon, taking on and beating the national hero Ayrton Senna in 1994.
“He was first in the championship and I remember Michael very strong and he became very famous in Brazil because he was a young guy who was already quicker than Ayrton,” said Massa.
I asked him to clarify this point; did he really mean to say that in his opinion Schumacher was quicker than Senna?
He took the opportunity to clarify; “I meant he was already breaking Senna’s balls,” laughed the Brazilian. “Senna had more pole positions but Michael was ahead in the championship. I don’t believe Michael was quicker than Senna, no. I think Senna was the most incredible qualifier ever, but I put both on the same level (in terms of speed).”