“I loved the late '80s/early '90s, wide slicks, wide cars, V8s, V10s and V12s – all different,” recollected the 13-time grand prix-winner, now racing for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM touring car championship. “I remember when I was a kid, in 1990 standing down at Stowe Corner at Silverstone during warm-up on a Sunday morning and as was more often than not the case at Silverstone, there was morning mist.
“Out in that morning mist there was the unmistakeable noise of a V12 Ferrari, and it came down through Stowe and went around, and it probably wasn't even going that fast, but I remember a shiver going down my spine. It's fantastic when you can identify a car like that.
“From when I was in karting at eleven-years-old to when I won in Monaco, my vision of how I looked at the corner, of what I wanted to achieve with the car, what I did with the engineers to get the right balance is all the same. Grand prix cars really are an uncomfortable place to be, but what allows you to pass over that discomfort is just the absolute focus on this high-stakes game. I cannot put myself back into that pressure zone again.
“I can still drive competitively in other formulas, but for me, F1 is unique. The DTM is not like that. I can drive and I can feel like I'm pushing the car and I'm taking myself to the limit, but that limit is nowhere near the limit of an F1 car. It's just incredible, and when I look at them now and I try to remember what it was like when I used to do that, I can only remember a little bit of it, because it was such a higher level of concentration than I ever use in everyday life, that I'm actually quite amazed I used to do it.
“There's nothing I've experienced in life like driving a grand prix car around Monaco or through Eau Rouge flat. It's just incredible. When it's really set up well, it will brake as late as you want, it will turn as fast as you want, it will do everything, it will absolutely deliver on your expectations. I don't know the last time you drove something where you just said, 'My God, this thing just doesn't have a flaw', and it only happened a few times in my grand prix career – but when it happened, it was fantastic.”