Bernie Ecclestone (93) still hasn't fully understood Michael Schumacher's first resignation from Formula 1 at the end of 2006.
"I couldn't understand it, it was a strange thing. No matter how good he was, he could have continued," said the long-time Formula 1 chief marketer of the German Press Agency.
Schumacher was 37 at the time, had made Ferrari multiple world champions again and was himself a record champion with seven world titles. But the Kerpener wanted to enjoy his private life more with his wife Corinna and their two children Gina and Mick.
“Has earned the respect of people”
Ecclestone speaks highly of Schumacher's time at Ferrari. "One day I sat with him and asked him: Who actually leads this team? And he replied: I do. And he did that well. He was able to get the best out of people," said Ecclestone. "He earned people's respect and they listened to him. When he said something, they knew it was correct." The then Ferrari team boss Jean Todt listened carefully to what Schumacher said. "Whatever Michael said, Todt followed it."
Ecclestone influenced Schumacher's path in Formula 1. At the beginning of the 90s, the Brit was looking for a local star to conquer the then important German market. After Schumacher's promising Formula 1 debut at Jordan in Belgium in 1991, Ecclestone acted as a clever mediator and helped ensure that the Kerpen native was in the much faster Benetton in the very next race. In 1994 and 1995, Schumacher won his first two world championship titles with the racing team of then team boss Flavio Briatore.
"We took some shortcuts for 'Schui'"
"I knew he was talented. Eddie Jordan (then boss of the team of the same name) was very convinced of him, he had a good instinct," said Ecclestone, who also had to convince Briatore of the young German's potential at the time. Jordan only reluctantly released Schumacher. "Michael would certainly have gotten a different cockpit, but we took some shortcuts for 'Schui'. We stole him from Jordan."
Schumacher is an icon for Ecclestone. "Michael of course benefited from Formula 1, but at the same time Formula 1 benefited from having him. There are enough drivers who simply disappear and no one remembers them. With 'Schui' it's of course different. Like Lewis today "Hamilton stands for its own brand," explained Ecclestone.
Schumacher “just a nice guy”
The Brit remembers Schumacher's very specific character traits. "Michael didn't even think about making compromises. If he was convinced of something, he went through with it," said Ecclestone, who also enjoyed meetings with the 91-time Grand Prix winner off the asphalt. "He was pretty normal, just a nice guy."
Ecclestone vaguely remembers Schumacher's fateful day, December 29, 2013, when the German was seriously injured in a skiing accident in France. "At the time, no one knew exactly what happened and what the consequences might be. It took a long time for people to understand what was actually going on," said Ecclestone. "I miss him. He is a star and he will always be remembered as a star." Since the accident, Schumacher has lived away from the public.