In those days German drivers reigned supreme in sports cars, mainly due to the successes of Sauber-Mercedes and Porsche. For that reason there was a feeling that they were great in sports cars but not really up to Formula 1. History tended to support the theory, as the country had only feted only two Grand prix winners before Michael arrived.
It seems strange now, particularly considering that in last month’s German Grand Prix there were six Germans on the grid – a quarter of the field – plus Mercedes is a powerful presence. Times certainly have changed!
Michael is statistically the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1, and even if somebody beats his various records in the future, including that incredible tally of seven world championships, he will leave an extremely powerful legacy.
I am often asked whether in my opinion Michael is the best ever. All I can say is that I had many good drivers in my teams over the years and tested many more – including Ayrton Senna – and I place those two on a pedestal.
However, I cannot decide who is on the top step. It could be either, depending upon the criteria: for pure passion there’s no beating Ayrton; for total professionalism and dedication it has to be Michael, although there is no doubting he was not always popular with fans.
When Michael returned to Formula 1 I was extremely critical of the move. I always tell people it is just as important to arrive in Formula 1 at the right time as it is to leave it in such a way that one’s legacy remains intact.
Whether he should still be in Formula 1; whether he is keeping a young driver out of a seat is another question, but there is no doubt that he is enjoying himself enormously, and has mellowed. Only he can answer whether he is really up to it.
At the moment he is stuck in the mid-field, and I think that is where his weakness lies: the one thing he never acquired are the skills you need when fighting in a pack – simply because he did not need to. That is where he is being shown up at present.
But which ever we look at it, Michael Schumacher has been good for Formula 1, and this is a momentous weekend; one I am proud to have facilitated on that August weekend 20 years ago.
Turning to this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, all I can say is that the outcome of this race will be as dependent upon the weather as it is on all the other factors that contribute to race victory.
Historically Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have never done well here, nor has Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, certainly not in Formula 1. Could either win on Sunday? Of course, but we need to remember that five of the last seven wet races were won by McLaren drivers.
So to overlook Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button would be extremely short-sighted, particularly as the former won here last year (and would have won in 2008 had he not jumped a chicane), and the latter won the last race in Hungary in very mixed conditions.
That means at least four potential winners, and even more if we look at the statistics: only three times in the past 18 years has the winner in Belgium come from pole position. That surely tells you unpredictable this race is.