Breakfast with ... Michael Schmidt

They say you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full, but Eric Silbermann risks the wrath of Mrs Manners by having breakfast with a pot-pourri of paddock people.

With the lack of a GP in Germany making the news and the sport dominated by a German car company and the Malaysian GP won by a German driver, we spoke to the doyen of the German media, Michael Schmidt. He’s been in the F1 paddock since 1981, first as a freelancer and since 1987 as a writer for “Auto Motor und Sport” and “Sport Auto.”

Motor Racing - ADAC Zurich 24 Hours - 41th Race - Nurburgring, Germany

What has been the reaction from Germany about the race being cancelled? Is there a feeling that it was a mess that none of the circuits could get organised? Do people blame Bernie? Do they think it’s terrible? Because it’s one of the Grandes Epreuves, always on the calendar.

Mainly, people blame Bernie. They say he’s greedy, wanting too much money because obviously both the Nürburgring and Hockenheim, more so Hockenheim, tried to get the event but it was just too expensive and the problem was - something nobody could understand - is why it took so long to come to a decision because they could have done the whole thing already in October or November last year. By the time it was finally decided, it was too late to sell any tickets. Nobody understood why it took so long because in the media, since November, the question was ‘do we have a Grand Prix?’ Finally, obviously, they gave Bernie the blame. On the other hand, it’s a bit strange in our country because last year already when there was a weak attendance in Hockenheim, it was a subject but people didn’t care too much. In the end, maybe they had read too much about this subject. Once it was over, people said, ‘OK, finally it’s over. Thank God we don’t have to listen to it anymore.’ It was not such a big thing then in Germany because it was too often reported before. Does it happen, does it not happen? People started to get bored.

You think already last year they thought ‘we’re not going to go’?

The problem is in Germany, we don’t have the hardcore fans like England has. We never had. The interest started really when Michael Schumacher was beginning but the problem is the two main media, which is RTL TV, and then obviously Bild, the biggest tabloid in Germany, they really concentrated everything on Michael Schumacher so they didn’t actually report about the sport. They reported about him.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Germany, Sunday Podium

It’s a bit like that with the English press. They tend to concentrate on Lewis and Jenson.

But the English press use them as a vehicle to also explain the sport, which in Germany wasn’t done. RTL never was really interested in it. All the sports they have, they do like that. The other problem is the current generation of German drivers have no chance because everybody says ‘they’re not as good as Schumacher. It’s impossible he can be as good as Schumacher.’ They are militant fans, Michael Schumacher fans. Even if Vettel was better than Michael, they would never accept it. I think it needs another generation and then again a superhero to bring the interest back. It’s the same in other sports as well.

Was there something about the type of fan that Schumacher attracted? I got the impression that, if you compare it to a British driver, he brought the same sort of fan that Nigel Mansell brought. A very nationalistic fan.

Absolutely, it was like this. Still, some of them are still around and they’ll still tell you that at the times of Michael Schumacher everything was better, races were more exciting and Formula 1 cars were better in those days than nowadays but they tend to forget there were some seasons when Michael Schumacher was champion already in France or Budapest but they see the past as if it was such a wonderful time, which it wasn’t sometimes.

People said [Schumacher] was a brilliant character and a much more interesting person than Vettel. It’s not true.

If that’s all you’re going to the race for, because you’re a Schumacher fan, you don’t care if he’s already won the champion.

People said he was a brilliant character and a much more interesting person than Vettel. It’s not true. Michael was a born diplomat. When you talked to him, he was very careful. He never said an outrageous thing. It’s true he was a guy who people either liked or didn’t like but the reason for that was because of what he was doing on the circuit rather than what he was saying or what he was doing outside. Michael had a normal family life. He was not a playboy. He had no affairs or stuff like that. He was a kind of boring person but he was very interesting on the circuit because on the one hand, he was brilliant, he did lap times nobody could imagine, or he drove races like Senna, nobody could imagine. On the other hand, he did things like with Villeneuve, with Damon Hill or the parking manoeuvre in Monte Carlo. That made him, let’s say, the special character.

To non-Germans, Sebastian Vettel seems a really nice, interesting person.

Absolutely. He’s a much more reflective guy.

He hasn’t caught the imagination in his own country.

No. Because maybe also his championships were too clean. There was no fighting with Alonso on the circuit, or bad words.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Preparation Day - Abu Dhabi, UAE

Nothing like the Villeneuve and Damon rivalry with Schumacher so there was no legend. Do you think that can change now that he’s at Ferrari? The fact he’s gone to Ferrari, will the Schumacher fans put together German driver, red car, red suit and start being more supportive, do you think?

I doubt that he’ll ever get the Schumacher fans but you could see the victory in Malaysia changed a lot. After Melbourne, you could say the ambiance or the general feeling about Formula 1 in Germany was really down because everybody said ‘this fits in the picture - we see now no German Grand Prix, only 15 cars on the grid, again Mercedes are dominating the field, it’s another boring season.’ Then all of a sudden, this victory of Vettel in a Ferrari. It turned everything around. All of a sudden, people start asking you ‘do you really believe he has a chance?’ It would not have been the same with Red Bull because Red Bull was not very popular in Germany.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Spain, Saturday

No? Why not?

They were seen as an arrogant team.

Obviously, Mercedes are the world champions and it’s a German company. From an Englishman’s point of view, it’s pretty much an English team with a German name. How is Mercedes seen in Germany? Are people proud of what it’s achieved?

They are proud but they don’t see it as an English team, although both factories are in England. They are proud of it but it’s obviously never a relationship between let’s say the fans and Mercedes like between the tifosi and Ferrari. The emotional part is missing. They’re just, like Germans are, they’re very... how should I say? ...stubborn and say ‘German technology must be good and we are proud of it’ but that’s it. They never will attract people by emotions.


The other German drivers…

First of all, Nico Rosberg, he’s not seen as a typical German driver. He’s a European person.

I think he’s a Finn from Monaco!

I think he only can attract the people when he’s beating Lewis. People think he’s too eager in a way. He tries to understand everything. He tries to work even harder than he does already and then still he’s slower than Lewis. I would say Lewis has more fans in Germany than Nico because he’s an instinctive driver. People think he’s faster. He’s also the more interesting person.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - German Grand Prix - Race Day - Hockenheim, Germany