Michael Schumacher has conceded that compatriot Sebastian Vettel is 'on the way' to overtaking records in F1 that many believed would never be broken – his own.
Schumacher hung up his F1 helmet at the end of the 2006 campaign with seven world championship crowns, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes, 68 pole positions and 76 fastest laps to his name – and the most wins in a single season with 13 from 18 races in 2004. The general consensus was that those achievements would remain unchallenged for some time, if not indeed forever.
When the German legend subsequently announced that he would be returning to the top flight with Mercedes Grand Prix this year, he was widely tipped to put those extraordinary statistics even further out-of-reach – but that has been far from the case. Rather, it is Vettel who is on the rampage, with six triumphs, seven pole positions and no finish lower than second place from the first eight outings of F1 2011 to amass what some contend to be a practically unassailable points advantage before the campaign has even hit the halfway stage.
That means that from just 70 grand prix starts, Vettel has tallied 16 victories, 27 podiums, 22 pole positions and the 2010 drivers' world championship trophy – becoming the youngest driver ever to lift the laurels in Abu Dhabi last November. Those figures put the 24-year-old not far shy of Schumacher's successes back at the beginning of his own glittering F1 career in the early-to-mid 1990s.
With the mutual respect and admiration between the pair palpable, the elder of the two countrymen reflects that it is not inconceivable that his hitherto seemingly untouchable records could be threatened by the man who shies away from the moniker 'Baby Schumi' – and that it will be 'difficult' indeed for any of Vettel's rivals to stop the Red Bull Racing star in his tracks and prevent him from making it back-to-back title glories in 2011.
“Records are there to be broken by whoever, and Sebastian is on the way,” the 42-year-old confessed, musing that Vettel could 'maybe' match or even better his streak of five consecutive world championships. “I get on very well with him. He is a good friend of mine, so I would have no hard feelings if he did beat my records. I feel he would deserve it, because he would have worked hard for it.
“He must never feel as if he is unstoppable, though, because you know how fragile things are, how much work, how much attention is needed to be in the position you are in, to stay there, and how quickly it may disappear. He maybe doesn't have that experience yet, but I do.
“At the moment, he is managing to extract the maximum, so there could still be a period of dominance. Seeing him [and] how he has developed, relates to the story of how I made F1 popular in Germany, increasing the interest for the motor industry that has supported these young kids to get their chance. He took his, has learned from everything he could and it is great to watch that.”
Whilst Schumacher might be tipping Vettel and Red Bull for an era of supremacy, however, others are adamant that they will not have things all their own way over the coming years. McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton is confident of being able to take the fight to and defeat the early-season runaway pace-setters – potentially even as soon as this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, dependent upon the relative effect of the FIA's clampdown on off-throttle blown-exhausts.