Wolff: Schumacher one of the "founding fathers" of Mercedes F1 success


As the media goes totally overboard in celebration of Michael Schumacher's 50th birthday - if nothing else an opportunity to revive interest in the sport at a time of scant genuine news - it is easy to forget how harshly the German was often treated by that self-same media, especially in Britain.

In particular the German was widely criticised for his relative lack of results following his return to the sport in 2010, which in 28 races saw just one podium finish.

The German had been lured back out of retirement by Ross Brawn who had worked with him as he won his titles at both Benetton and Ferrari, and though neither expected further titles to follow, Schumacher's return began the process which was to ultimately reap great rewards, as Toto Wolff admits.

"Michael is one of the founding fathers of the success we have had in the last five years," says th4 Austrian. "There is no other driver like him and his vast experience contributed tremendously in the development of our team.

"He played a crucial role when we re-joined F1 and was one of the people who laid the foundation for our future success.

"I remember when I first met Michael back in 2012, it was on a flight from Zurich to Singapore," he continues. "He was sitting next to me and asked me if I was up for a game of backgammon. I think that I'm a decent backgammon player, but he absolutely crushed me in the first two rounds because I was so star-struck. Once I was over that, my game improved, and we ended up playing and talking for the entire flight. We had a really good and honest conversation and when we landed it felt like I had known him for much longer than I actually did."

"Michael has had a tremendous impact on Formula One," he added. "Not only did he set an incredible record - a record that is yet to be beaten - but he also shaped and changed the sport forever.

"As a driver, he took Formula One to a whole new level with his attention to detail and his technical knowledge. He did everything with great determination, from his engineering debriefs to his physical training, and was always searching for new ways to improve his on-track performance."

Schumacher took some of his first steps as a professional racing driver with Mercedes when he joined the brand's junior programme in 1990, racing in Group C sports cars and DTM. Together with Karl Wendlinger, he won the last race of the season in sports car racing - Michael's first and only victory with Mercedes.

He moved to Formula One in the following year, racing for Jordan before joining Benetton with whom he went on to win the World Championship in 1994 and 1995. One year later, he switched to Ferrari, where he laid the foundations for one of the most successful eras in Formula One. He stayed with the team from Maranello for a decade and won five consecutive Drivers' (2000-2004) and six consecutive Constructors' (1999-2004) Championships with the Scuderia.

He retired from Formula One after the 2006 campaign; however, when Mercedes re-joined Formula One as a works team in 2010, he made his return to the series. Working with the team in Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart, he played an important role in developing the long-term capabilities of the team that were the foundation of its future success in F1.

Though he never won an F1 race in a Mercedes, he played an important role in the success the team would enjoy in subsequent years.

"We're extremely grateful for everything he did for us," said Wolff. "Today, we all tip our hats to you - happy birthday, Michael"

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Published: 03/01/2019
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