“Both have the piercing look of wanting”
As Head of Mercedes Motorsport, Norbert Haug worked with both Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. In the interview he talks about what makes the two champions
Norbert Haug: My answer has two parts. Part one: After Michael’s seventh world title, I would have bet house and yard that he would set a record for the ages. Part two: Since Lewis started collecting titles on an annual basis with Mercedes, it was clear that at some point the number “seven” would be due. It can also become a ten, and that is as well deserved as all of the previous seven.
I am of course very happy, especially that I met Michael and Lewis in their early days in motorsport when they were not yet professional athletes and then worked with both of them for so long. With Michael at the beginning of his professional career in the Mercedes junior team and in the final phase of his career for three years in today’s Mercedes works team. In between we were rivals of Formula 1 in red and silver for twelve years and have always remained friends. It was hard – sometimes very, very, hard – on the track, sensitive and emphatic before and after the races. I was on the road with Lewis for 15 years – from his young karting days to Formula 3 in the DTM, GP 2 to Formula 1, his first win there and his first World Championship title in 2008. Looking back, of course, I’m happy that I was there for Lewis’s first victory in 2007 at the Canadian GP as well as for the first victory of the current Mercedes Formula 1 works team in 2012 at the Chinese GP. Since then, the Silver Arrows team’s number of wins has risen to triple digits, and Lewis’s is about to hit triple digits. Unimaginable and cannot be rated highly enough.
What parallels do you see between the two?
Both love what they do, both challenge themselves more than anyone else, both always go the extra mile, both never give up, both are positively dissatisfied. What sounds like a contradiction is the elixir of the super champion. Without that you can be a winner, but not a permanent winner.
And what are the differences or what made both of them special independently of each other?
You can climb a mountain peak from several sides, but the mountaineer’s abilities must be very similar or at least very comparable – otherwise he will crash. Michael and Lewis have the piercing eye of wanting, they ask more, do more, work more, create more. These properties are independent of the type-specific habitus. Both are the very special among the special.
You both met at a young age: How was young Schumi and young Lewis?
The young Schumi – you can still see and hear it today in old film clips – was a Rhenish boy with dialect, a boy from the kart track. A short time later he spoke English, and so perfectly that an English journalist said to me: “I wish our English drivers would speak as well as your German.” That shows the perfectionists: goodbye to the kart track, without pure English I can do it Nothing in the highest motorsport class, that is the basic requirement for moving forward. Young Lewis was well behaved and very polite. At the age of 14, he was our guest at Mika Häkkinen’s first World Cup celebration in 1998 in the Mercedes Museum. Since then, Lewis has achieved all of his Formula 3 and Formula 1 victories with Mercedes engines. From apprentice or pen, as they say in Swabia, to multiple world champion – in Hollywood you would probably label the story as exaggerated fiction, in reality it takes place.
Merciless. If you want an opponent, it’s not Michael Schumacher. If you want a driver, that’s his name.
Schumacher apparently had to fight harder for his successes, Hamilton only rarely had to do development work: How do you rate this thesis?
Whoever looks up can read: “Thesis means an assertion to be proven”. I don’t know anyone who can provide this proof. Certainly there will be a completely different amount of data in 2020 than in 2004. But also the increased possibility of getting lost in the data jungle. Having Michael and Lewis at their peak as teammates and coordinating them would have been – assuming a car capable of winning – the ultimate combination with the greatest possible chance of victory. But also those who would have driven those responsible to the edge of madness – or beyond.
Who is the better of the two or the best for you?
Anyone who is serious will not be able to give you an accurate answer.
I am sure, very important. With Ross Brawn as his technical head, he has brought all of his 91 wins and all of his seven world titles. With Ross, the basic structure of the Silberpfeil factory team was set up in 2010, with many colleagues and technicians who are still active in the team ten years later and still occupy key roles. At that time, after the financial crisis, we had a very minimal budget and not a third of the number of employees today. But there is no fruitful continuation without an idea, a vision and a purposeful beginning. Our first victory in 2012 was won by Nico Rosberg in China and Michael, too, was absolutely capable of winning until he retired after an incorrectly fitted wheel nut. After that, he drove the not best car in the field, fastest time in qualifying for the Monaco GP – on the mother of all racetracks.
No, he wasn’t, and if you look you will see that Michael was close to his 44th birthday when he retired. Which does not mean that he was no longer capable of winning in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and could even have been a world championship title. As I said: Anyone who drives pole time in Monaco in 2012 can, in my opinion, win in 2014 with an appropriate car, and even more so with a superior one. Everything with us was geared towards the hybrid engine age, which – because the competition had not finished – began in 2014 instead of 2013. And as is well known, Mercedes has won all the Formula 1 World Championship titles since 2014, seven times in a row with drivers and designers. An unimaginable achievement that is unique in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship, which speaks for the team, driver, team and team management: a smooth 1 with seven double stars.
Would he have preferred to continue driving … Seriously: Nico knew exactly why he drew a line under his Formula 1 and racing career in 2016, he communicated that in detail. And I can absolutely understand and respect his decision: There are more important things in life than driving around in circles. But little that is more beautiful, more demanding and more instructive.