When Michael Schumacher started collecting world championship titles, you went to school. How does it feel to suddenly race against the seven-time world champion?
V ettel: This is for everyone something special from us. Since the Alonso era, the young drivers have increasingly taken over the reins. Robert Kubica, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, we all know each other from the kart track. And when we followed Formula 1 back then, Michael was our hero, our role model. It's still difficult to classify that we're racing against him now. In the car it doesn't matter who is driving next to you. You don't think about names then. You want to beat everyone, no matter what his name is.
How long have you known Michael Schumacher?
Vettel: I met him for the first time in 1995 shook hands. I was eight years old then. It was my first year in karting. Michael was the big star, just crowned world champion for the second time. Back then there was the NRW Cup, of which Michael was the patron. He always came to the last race in Kerpen to honor the winners and to greet every participant. Of course, nobody wanted to take that away. That's why the starting fields in Kerpen were always huge. In 1995, 94 participants were registered for free practice, although the track is only approved for 34 karts. That was a criminal offense. I stopped once. My father had to come by car to retrieve my kart, but he couldn't even make it across the track because there was so much traffic. Getting into the final alone was a great success. In the end I finished seventh. It was quite an experience to be able to shake hands with Michael.
Did you meet him again later?
Vettel: About Gerhard Noack, who had already supported Michael and later me too, I really came into contact with him in 1997. I stood there in awe. First I wanted an autograph. Actually several for my buddies at the same time. I still have one at home. Of course, I was excited, but that quickly subsided because he was acting completely normal. We then talked about fitness training. The topic interested me.
Is Schumacher now protected by species on the racetrack?
Vettel: The chance to beat someone like Michael is tempting. But if the helmetis up, then it doesn't matter who is standing left and right of it, whether the car is silver or red. I always got on well with Michael. I don't see any reason why that should change either. We competed in the Race of Champions three times in a row and we also contested a few kart races together. But there is nothing to give away on the racetrack. Nobody is under species protection. Two years ago at Hockenheim I had a duel with Fernando for eighth place. I already knew that the two-time world champion Alonso was going against me, but you think about that more afterwards than in the situation itself. He is simply an opponent that you want to pass.
When Senna's yellow helmet in the rearview mirror has already made room for people.
Vettel: It was no different with Schumacher's red helmet. When I did a couple of Friday training sessions in 2006, everyone would drive away if Michael came from behind. But he himself didn't make room if the circumstances made you faster than him.
Did you have a quiet winter thanks to Schumacher?
Vettel: Yes. As the comeback became more and more likely, interest focused on him and for me it was more relaxed. But I can live with that.
Do you have any problems with the fact that everything is now gathering around Schumacher, but the grape may return after two victories for you?
Vettel: Formula 1 is a fast-moving business. You're only as good as your last race. It goes up and down quickly. The most important thing is that you believe in yourself and that you know what you can do. At the beginning of your career you are still a bit insecure and think: Oh, all the big names and I am right in the middle. Then comes the step to more self-confidence and with that you learn to deal with the fact that the media pounces on the last winner first. If the grape ever wanders elsewhere, that is not the end of the world. One may take it a little more to heart, the other doesn't care. I've seen that before, in 2008 with the ToroRosso . After my victory in Monza, the next race in Singapore was full. In Singapore I finished fifth, it was an absolutely great race, I got my heart out, but one race later the normal number of people was back at the table. The enthusiasm quickly subsided. Then it was about the World Cup, and the focus was on Massa and Hamilton.
Doesn't it bother you that there is suddenly only one topic in Germany?
Vettel: Michael is a constant in Germany, he is an absolute superstar. Anyone who thinks normally can understand the return of a superstargenerated a huge hype. Nothing is taken away from me.
Would it be a declaration of bankruptcy for the younger drivers if a 41-year-old stole the show over and over again?
Vettel: Sure. That would be the same in any other sport. If the hero of the past wiped away everyone who had just finished at the top, it would be no fun. Michael is undoubtedly a good racing driver. He's no nut either. He can seriously assess the situation. So you can assume that, firstly, he is fit enough, secondly, he is confident enough to be at the front. Whether it will come true is the tension at the moment. He's something special, of course. Nobody has won seven titles and 91 races. When things went so well for me at Silverstone last year and I dominated the whole weekend, I said to my boys on the evening after the race: OK, and Michael Schumacher had leased this situation for five years.