Sebastian Vettel has paid tribute to Michael Schumacher on the eve of the 43-year-old's final F1 race.
Schumacher will bow out and retire from the sport for the second time this weekend at Interlagos in Brazil and while his three-year comeback stint with Mercedes hasn't exactly been a success, there have been some highs for the seven-time world champion, most noticeably his third place finish in Valencia back in June and his 'pole position' at this year's Monaco Grand Prix.
“I had the privilege to meet Michael when I was a small kid. He was my childhood hero. Maybe he can close his ears or shut his ears now, but he was a true inspiration back then, for me and for many other kids in Kerpen. He was our hero,” Vettel said ahead of this weekend's 2012 F1 Brazilian Grand Prix.
“Obviously we had the honour to meet him. He was taking care of the championship held in Kerpen and came to the last race. He gave all the trophies to everyone, every child, more than 100 at the time, so he was very patient and now, obviously, we understand that the busy schedule that he had, taking that extra time for the fans but especially for us, for the kids who were racing, was something very special, a very special memory. When I met him the first time, obviously I didn't know what to say because I didn't want to ask something stupid but for sure, I remember these moments.
“Today I think it's a little bit different because you are more grown up, you have a normal relationship, so when I talk to him now, it doesn't feel like talking to my childhood hero, it feels like talking to Michael so I see the person rather than what he has achieved.
“But obviously, if you remind yourself of that and the fact that I was racing against him for the last couple of years, unfortunately not as close as he probably shared with Fernando, but still that thought or that image was very, very far away when I was a small kid. Obviously he was already in F1 then but for me it was a dream so very far away. It has been very special for the last couple of years, very special the relationship we share and I think he will always be an inspiration for myself.”
Fernando Alonso meanwhile similarly paid homage to the veteran of more than 300 races: “I think we will always remember the privilege to race and compete with someone like Michael that will be recorded in the history of F1. We had some good fights and great respect on the circuit,” added the Spaniard.
And what has Schumacher made of his time in F1?
“I don't think we have long enough here to sum it up, but let's put it this way: It was mostly 20 good years and lots of fun and lots of excitement,” he added.
“Obviously with Fernando I have had quite a few more years competing and fighting for championships [than with Seb]. Fernando was unfortunately in quite a few moments very strong and doing too good a job – he should have taken it easy and looked after the old man!
“On Seb's side, we've been friends for a long time and I sort of followed his career into F1 and seeing him doing so well, obviously makes me proud. We've both grown up on my home track in Kerpen and to see from where he started to end up and kind of being dominant for quite a while recently, that's quite an achievement.”