Mercedes Formula 1 team principal Toto Wolff has described Michael Schumacher as “one of the founding fathers” of the period of dominance which the team has enjoyed in the championship.
Schumacher came out of retirement to drive for Mercedes when it restarted its program as a full factory team in 2010.
While the seven-time world champion added only one more podium to his glittering resume during the three years he spent at the Silver Arrows, Wolff believes Schumacher was “crucial” to its subsequent five-year run of championship doubles.
“Michael is one of the founding fathers of the success we have had in the last five years,” declared Wolff in a statement released on Schumacher’s 50th birthday (January 3, European time).
“There is no other driver like him and his vast experience contributed tremendously in the development of our team.
“He played a crucial role when we re-joined F1 and was one of the people who laid the foundation for our future success.
“We’re extremely grateful for everything he did for us. Today, we all tip our hats to you – happy birthday, Michael!”
Wolff’s tenure at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport came after the conclusion of Schumacher’s stint in Formula 1, when the Austrian was executive director of Williams.
He recalled, however, an amusing anecdote from his first meeting with Schumacher just prior to moving to the works squad.
“I remember when I first met Michael back in 2012, it was on a flight from Zürich to Singapore,” he noted.
“He was sitting next to me and asked me if I was up for a game of backgammon. I think that I’m a decent backgammon player, but he absolutely crushed me in the first two rounds because I was so star-struck.
“Once I was over that, my game improved, and we ended up playing and talking for the entire flight.
“We had a really good and honest conversation and when we landed it felt like I had known him for much longer than I actually did.”
Despite making his name at Benetton before becoming synonymous with Ferrari, Schumacher was in fact a Mercedes junior prior to entering F1.
Wolff also paid tribute to his record in F1 in general, which includes a record seven world titles, a record 91 grand prix wins, and a haul of 68 pole positions which was only overtaken by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in 2017.
“Michael has had a tremendous impact on Formula One,” he said.
“Not only did he set an incredible record – a record that is yet to be beaten – but he also shaped and changed the sport forever.
“As a driver, Michael took Formula One to a whole new level with his attention to detail and his technical knowledge.
“He did everything with great determination, from his engineering debriefs to his physical training, and was always searching for new ways to improve his on-track performance.”