'I wish I had been able to speak to Michael Schumacher' reveals Vettel
There is a room in Maranello, Ferrari’s hallowed headquarters, which used to accommodate Michael Schumacher during his 10 years at the illustrious Italian team.
Since joining himself, Sebastian Vettel, Schumacher’s disciple, has already stayed overnight several times. It may even have been in the very room where his hero slept. “It did not say Michael’s room on the door,” Vettel says with a smile.
Even if the seven-time champion’s name is no longer emblazoned on the entrance, Schumacher is ever-present in Vettel’s thoughts. Along with the allure, the passion and the history of Ferrari – the 27-year-old is a great student of Formula One – Schumacher’s achievements are the main explanation for why Vettel chose to leave Red Bull for the then unfancied scarlet car.
He is there to emulate his great idol. It is a challenge many assert he is incapable of rising to, despite his stunning drive to victory at the last race in Malaysia. His unflattering season alongside Daniel Ricciardo in 2014 did not help. But since he was dubbed “baby Schumi” on winning his first race at Monza, seven years ago, the comparisons have been inevitable.
Vettel speaks eloquently, and at times movingly, given Schumacher’s condition after his skiing accident, of peering over the fence at Ferrari’s test track as boy, desperate to catch a glimpse.
“Some 15 or 20 years ago, I was standing in front of the gates of Maranello, and I wasn’t allowed in,” the German says. “Now the gates opened and I was the one driving around the track. It was something quite special.”
These emotional reminisces make it all the more tragic that, when crunch time came over switching teams, Vettel was unable to ask the man he admired most for advice.
“I would have loved to have spoken to Michael,” Vettel says. “I think I missed that part a lot simply because I knew he would tell me the truth of what he thinks. The honesty he had in giving me advice over the years is probably the most special bit about it. Most people expect him to tell me, for example, ‘For turn 13 in Shanghai, try and stay on the inside’, or something like this. But this is nonsense.
“Every driver has his own style and you have to figure that sort of thing out for yourself. He was always very helpful and honest about all the rest in F1; the business side, his experience, the lessons he learnt. That’s obviously the part I was missing.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Chinese GP, live, Sky Sports F1, 7.0am