x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Vettel says he has some way to go to emulate Schumacher

With six drivers, and two more trained in the country, the Germans dominate the sport, Gary Meenaghan reports from the Nurburgring.

Michael Schumacher, right, was one of Sebastian Vettel's heroes when he was growing up.
Michael Schumacher, right, was one of Sebastian Vettel's heroes when he was growing up.

With six drivers, and two more trained in the country, the Germans dominate the sport, Gary Meenaghan reports from the Nurburgring

Six German drivers, two German world champions and two circuits rotating the right to host the annual German Grand Prix. There is little doubting Deutschland's relationship with Formula One is more than a mere dalliance.

A distinctly German press conference was held at the illustrious Nurburgring yesterday. It featured Sebastian Vettel of Heppenheim, Michael Schumacher of Hurth, Adrian Sutil of Starnberg, Nico Rosberg of Wiesbaden, Timo Glock of Lindenfels and Nick Heidfeld of Monchengladbach. Put another way, it featured a quarter of the drivers in the sport, and all hailed from Germany.

"It's always great to have the opportunity to race in your home country," Vettel, the Red Bull Racing driver, said. "We are six drivers now, so we all share that feeling this weekend."

Add to that sextet the figures of Paul di Resta, Sutil's Scottish teammate at Force India who engineered his move into F1 through the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, and Sergio Perez, Sauber's Mexican who moved to Bavaria at age 15 to better his prospects of success, and this Sunday's race will feel additionally significant to more than most in the paddock.

"The Nurburgring for me is something special," Sutil said. "I did my race licence here and my family is also close to here, so it is my real home grand prix."

Schumacher, Formula One's most successful driver and the country's first world champion, sat next to Vettel, this season's most successful driver and the sport's youngest world champion. The latter has been likened to the former since the day he first showed promise behind the wheel and the two have developed a strong relationship.

As they whispered and giggled in front of a phalanx of cameramen, it was easy to forget the two drivers are separated not only by 176 championship points - Vettel leads the drivers' standings with 204 - but also by the best part of 18 years.

At one point Vettel, who has won six of the first nine races this year, was asked to analyse his compatriot's inconsistent season so far. The reigning champion responded by showing no signs of satisfaction or Schadenfreude, but instead simple, unspoken respect. "Just now he is sitting next to me, so whatever I say, he will …" His voice was drowned out with laughter as Schumacher comically plugged his fingers into his own ears.

Next, Vettel was asked if he thought he could be the next Michael Schumacher. Again as the elder German blushed, the younger German's response was as commendable as it was quick-witted.

"I'm not his brother," he said. "He has one already."

Ralph Schumacher retired from F1 in 2008 after being overlooked for a seat at Toro Rosso in favour of Vettel.

"All of us here will always be compared to Michael and be left trying to fill his big footprints, but it will be very difficult," Vettel continued. "What he has achieved is quite phenomenal, so the question is not even whether there will be a German achieving that again, it's whether there will ever again be a driver in Formula One achieving what he has done."

If any one country is on the right track to emulating the seven-time world champion it is indubitably Germany.

Car manufacturers such as Mercedes and BMW are providing the necessary investment not only financially but also in terms of development programmes. Talent scouts are a common sight at local tracks and the country is now home to countless karting academies and driving schools.

"Motorsport in general is of much higher importance than it used to be," said Schumacher, who cited the increasing number of racing series available to young drivers. "This is part of the reason that finances and support have been given to us."

Vettel was one such driver nurtured from a young age. Photos exist of an eight-year-old Vettel being presented with karting trophies from his hero, the man now sitting beside him yesterday.

Such early admiration is also a primary factor in the exponential surge in quality drivers in the country, said Rosberg, Schumacher's teammate at Mercedes-GP.

"Michael himself is responsible for there being so many good Germans in racing," he said. "He's the one who gave the sport such a boom in Germany and then there's a knock-on effect from there: more kids want to start racing, there's more money to support them, et cetera."

Nobody is willing to get too carried away, however; long-term domination is not being predicted by F1's German contingent. When Schumacher took part in his first Formula One race at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix he was joined by 12 Italian drivers. Now there are only two. "It's a phase of life," Schumacher said.

Vettel, as he has managed so well both on the track and in the record books, followed his idol's lead. "It changes naturally," he added.



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