Rubens Barrichello, Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt, Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2002 launch, 2002

Montezemolo on Schumacher: ‘Only Niki was as important to my career as Michael’

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Former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo says Michael Schumacher was as important to revitalising the team’s fortunes in the noughties as Niki Lauda had been in the seventies.

Speaking at the opening of the Schumacher collection in Cologne last week, di Montezemolo described how the driver played a vital role in helping him turn around the fortunes of Formula 1’s most famous team.

“Michael is an important part of my life,” said di Montezemolo. “We won many races. I think only Niki was as important as Michael in professional life because even with Niki in the seventies we won a lot of races.”

Ferrari had won just two races in five years when Schumacher joined them. “With Michael it was different [to Lauda] because we started from grass,” said Montezemolo.

“When we decided to hire him in 1996 that was at the right moment to do it because we had already put together [Jean] Todt, Ross [Brawn], Rory [Byrne]. So we have got a good team.

“If I had hired Michael before, I think for him [it would have been] impossible to win. That was the right moment. When we won the first race in 1996 in the first year in a raining day in Barcelona I thought to myself ‘now, finally, we are very close to start a very important era’.

“And then from 1997 until 2005 we won the championship, or we [lost it] at the last race. So for 10 years we were by far the best against different teams, because in 1996 and 1997 there was the Williams, then there was the McLaren with Mika [Hakkinen], then there was Renault. But Ferrari was always there.”

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Di Montezemolo singled out Schumacher’s team spirit as his most significant characteristic.

Michael Schumacher, Mugello, Ferrari, 2009
Schumacher almost returned to Ferrari in 2009
“Michael was fantastic,” he said. “What I liked about him was the capability to work with the team. When we were successful we were all together, when we were unsuccessful we were all together This was very important.”

Schumacher originally retired from Formula 1 at the end of 2006 but almost returned to drive for Ferrari three years later when Felipe Massa was injured.

“I was very sad when Felipe got the terrible accident in Budapest,” said di Montezemolo. “I called Michael in my office and said ‘Michael, listen, you have to do for me, for us, for Ferrari, you have to come back’.

“And for half an hour it was impossible to convince him. And after one hour he said ‘OK, I cannot say no’. He went to the racing department like a young child, full of enthusiasm. He went to Mugello to do a very good test with the old car.

“But unfortunately when he went to his doctor after the test the doctor said for your neck, no. So that was bad for all of us.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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  • 17 comments on “Montezemolo on Schumacher: ‘Only Niki was as important to my career as Michael’”

    1. Ferrari could certainly use such a driver again yes. Although it can be argued that Schumachers playing field was not as competitive (in terms of drivers) as current day.

      1. Hemingway (@)
        21st June 2018, 12:31

        I don’t get it when people say that Schumacher had a weaker field to deal with. F1 was relatively far cheaper than now to get into, so there’s less of an excuse to say the talented drivers couldn’t make it to the top. I see it as Schumacher raising the bar. He found performance in himself where others didn’t imagine.

        1. It’s the same in many sports. Things get more and more competitive as more and more people compete for the seats. Drivers were rarer back in Schumacher’s days. And the fact it was cheaper to race in F1 is precisely an indicator of how rarer drivers were.

          That’s not to say the paydrivers of today make the field more competitive. And to be honest, I don’t think today’s field is that much more competitive than it was back in the day. A contributor to that is that the top drivers are never necessarily in the top cars. Alonso, Ricciardo and Verstappen?

          1. Not sure that it can be said F1 was relatively cheaper back then. I think the mega-deal that MS got with all the resources put behind him, started the massive escalation of spending as teams had no choice if they wanted to compete against all that was being put behind MS to succeed. The era saw Toyota for example spending upwards of half a billion a year in their unsuccessful effort. It still held back then that teams were spending everything they could get their hands on in order to compete. And there were far more sponsors willing to do so than today.

          2. The latter two are in top car. The Baku crash, a poor showing in Aus, and several other incidents (for Max) have hampered their points tally.

        2. I think some of that sense that MS had a less competitive field came from the fact that once Senna passed, that signified the end of an era that had Senna, Prost, Mansell, Berger etc…the old guard if you will, of historic icons. The new guard were naturally going to need a little time to build up the new chapter and make a name for themselves post-Senna.

          1. Not to take anything away from Schumi but I think the generation before was much more competitive that what he raced against. Senna, Prost, Piquet, Mansell, Lauda, Berger (who didn’t win a WDC) and guys like Alesi, whom only won one race!!

            He had Mika Hakkinen to deal with (who was probably as talented as Michael) then later Alonso (also up to his talent as well) but in 2000-2004 he was clearly the best driver in the best car, but he didn’t really have anyone else to race. Would have been great if he was born 10 year earlier and mixed it with the great mentioned above.

        3. @theessence I meant that currently the field exists of multiple champions competing: VET (4xWDC), HAM (4xWDC), ALO (2xWDC) and some incredible talent LecLerc, Ocon, Ver. Michael was never (well, technically he was after his come-back; in the Mercedes) in such playing field

          1. Hemingway (@)
            21st June 2018, 15:09

            If michael would have lost a couple more championships to his opposition, and Hakkinen hung around for a bit longer- would that have made the playing field stronger? I don’t think so… Or if Vettel would have jumped ship to Mercedes in 2014 and won 4 more championships with them, would that have made the other drivers weaker? Again I don’t think so.

    2. it always seems like that when a team is dominating

    3. I don’t recall thinking that the F2002 was a looker at the time, but it has aged incredibly well.

    4. Off topic a little, and possibly opening a can of worms, but here goes.

      I really wish the family would let those of us who remember Michael in his pomp and followed his career know how his recovery is progressing. I know its truly none of my business, and they have an undeniable right to privacy, but there are so many rumours and so much speculation that a simple update would suffice and stifle the gossipmongers.

    5. While I think Schumacher would have still managed to win championships against any crop of drivers, it’s pretty clear that his competition was not as strong as it is now, or the early 90’s when he started. I think Schumacher would have still won championships, but not in the extremely boring and dominant fashion that he did from 2000 to 2004. Those were for me the absolute worst years of the sport. Especially 2001 to 2003. Dreadful. Some people compare it to the Mercedes domination, but Michael didn’t have anyone challenging him inside the team. In fact we had embarrassing displays of team orders. The Red Bull domination years? There were a couple of awful years, but Vettel’s incompetence at times and Alonso’s absolute brilliance made them colorful.

      1. @ajpennypacker – Vettel’s biggest cases of “incompetence” were Turkey and Belgium ’10, which were matched by some of Alonso’s errors that year. 2011 and 2013 were predictable, but 2010 was a great 3 way fight between RBR, Mclaren and Ferrari. 2012 had 4 front running teams (the trio of 2010 and Lotus with an outside chance), plus the likes of Mercedes, Williams, Sauber and even Force India having their days in the sun.

    6. “When we decided to hire him in 1996 that was at the right moment to do it because we had already put together [Jean] Todt, Ross [Brawn], Rory [Byrne]. So we have got a good team.”

      Someone correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Brawn and Byrne join Ferrari in late 1996/early 1997, at least in part because Schumacher recommended both of them?

      1. I think you’re right. And LdM is forgetting that he was the one who forced MSC to retire because he thought that Brawn/Todt/Schumacher had too much power within Ferrari….

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