Sebastian Vettel's 2011 F1 season has all the hall marks of a record-breaker, but the German insists that it is unlikely that anyone will reach the heights achieved by countryman Michael Schumacher.
Asked during the first FIA press conference of the weekend whether he could become 'the next Schumacher', the affable Red Bull driver maintained that, no matter how successful he proved to be, he would probably not achieve as much as the seven-time world champion had in his career. As well as the seven titles he took with Benetton and Ferrari, Schumacher also established marks for the most GP wins, at 91, and also holds the record for most pole positions, front row starts, fastest laps, podium finishes, points scored and longest winning career. Although his return with Mercedes has yet to yield the same sort of success, just one more win would help establish another notable achievement by eclipsing Nigel Mansell's mark as the oldest F1 winner of the modern era, while only Rubens Barrichello's longevity currently denies him a shot at becoming the most experienced driver of all time.
"I can rate many seasons by Michael, he did a lot of seasons and he obviously won the championship seven times," he noted, "Obviously, he's sitting next to me so, whatever I say, he can hear as well, but I don't think we have to go through it all again. He had very good seasons, but he also had seasons where he was in a bit of trouble and came out of it, made huge progress with the team and himself, even though he didn't win the championship.
"Surely, for all of us, except Michael, we will always be compared to him and left with his big footsteps or footprints, but it will be very, very difficult to catch up. Everything he achieved is quite phenomenal, so the question is not only if there will ever be a German achieving that again, the question is if there will ever again be a driver in F1 achieving what he has done."
Vettel admitted that there was no great difference returning to the German Grand Prix as world champion, as it was always special to turn out in front of the home crowd, but pointed out that he would have to share the spotlight with five other Germans as the most well-represented nation in the field had something else to thank Schumacher for.
"After winning the championship last year, coming here is not that different to two years ago or last year in Hockenheim," he insisted, "It is always great, first of all, to have the opportunity to race in your home country, in front of your home crowd. We are six drivers now, so we all share that feeling this weekend and I am looking forward to it.
"Many times people talk about extra pressure or things that could slow you down but, to be honest, I think it is more positive than anything else to have people in the grandstands, people outside the paddock - and inside the paddock as well - supporting you and trying to push you forward to allow you to find maybe this extra tenth or two around the lap."
Schumacher played down suggestions, however, that the current surge in German F1 drivers was down to him.
"At the moment, I think the general reason is that we have a huge German industry for cars that is interested in F1 and that in the past – not only Mercedes but other manufacturers – have invested in F1, have invested in young driver programmes and still do," he reasoned, "Motorsport in general is of a much higher importance than it used to be and there are lots of schools and talent scouts to find the drivers of the future.
"Luckily, because of this possibility, there is a big mass of drivers who do go-karts, do many kinds of categories, so we were lucky to establish the final six that you see at the moment here. But then, why did we have, at certain moments, so many Brazilian drivers, so many Italian drivers? I think it's a sort of phase that you go through. Why were there more than ten Italian drivers – I think even 12 or 14 Italian drivers - when I started F1? Why do we have almost none at the moment, apart from Jarno [Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi]? I don't know whether it's just because of the financial side or whether there are other reasons - or it's just coincidence."
"I agree with what Michael says," Vettel concluded, "Sometimes you have more Italian drivers, and there are a lot of French drivers [but], at the moment, we have two Italians and no French drivers [in F1]. I think it changes naturally. I still believe we have great categories in Germany, giving chances to young drivers but. overall, I think motorsport becomes very expensive from an early age, so you need strong people behind you to support you.
"Unfortunately, it's no longer as open as maybe it used to be, just because you need so much money right from the start to go karting. I hope that in the future, there will be manufacturers like Michael said, or individual companies supporting young kids and giving them the chance to, one, have fun, and secondly, maybe live their dream and end up in F1 or DTM or whatever."