by Russell Atkins

Former Jordan and Stewart Grand Prix designer Gary Anderson was one of the privileged few to be present at Michael Schumacher's maiden Formula One test more than 15 years ago, and ever since has kept a close eye on his charge as he went on to make the sport his own.

Here the respected Irishman casts a glance back over Schumacher's long, glorious and controversial career in the top flight, reminiscing about the past and present and looking ahead to what the world of grand prix racing will be like without him.

Q:
You were there at Michael Schumacher's very first Formula One test. What were your initial impressions of him?

Gary Anderson:
It took place on the Silverstone south circuit, and it was just a few laps for him to acclimatise himself with both the car and the team. He did an absolutely fantastic job to be honest. On his fourth lap we had to call him back into the pits and say just take it easy - this is the car you will be driving at Spa so we don't want any damage doing to it. His reaction was 'I'm not pushing, it's all under control'. He had so much confidence, even before he got in the car. He sat on the bench in the workshop with me and talked about the car's good points and bad. I've always looked at his career and thought one of the biggest advantages was he drove the car he was given and didn't try to make it into something else. The 191 was a good, comfortable little car to drive. It wasn't the fastest in the world but it gave him confidence and he used that. Watching him around Silverstone was quite incredible.

Q:
Had you seen much of him in action before he took part in that test for Jordan?

GA:
It's a strange old story really. We were testing at Monza with Andrea de Cesaris and were waiting for Bertrand Gachot to come along and do the second day, but he was otherwise engaged I suppose you might say - locked up in prison. Eddie called me and said the case had gone the wrong way and we needed another driver for Spa. He asked me what do you think? There's Damon Hill, Stefan Johansson or this young guy called Michael Schumacher. Through luck or whatever you want to call it I had watched something on TV a couple of nights beforehand and there was Michael Schumacher in a Formula 3 race in Germany. He had done a really good job and I thought this guy is good. I said to Eddie, with all the best will in the world Stefan is past his sell-by-date, Damon didn't really make my heart go throb, but I felt this guy Schumacher had something special. He called me back a few hours later and said Michael was coming into the workshop on Monday for a chat.

Q:
Obviously you were very impressed at the start, but back then did you ever imagine Schumacher would achieve what he did go on to achieve in his Formula One career?

GA:
It's always difficult to look at somebody at that point in their career and say they are going to be a seven-time world champion and win more races than anybody else, but he had that hunger about him. I would classify it as being like a successful businessman. Formula One is a business and he approached it as such. It wasn't just that he enjoyed motor racing, that he was driving a racing car and that was his big thing in life - it was his life. All the drivers are physically fit people - they have to be for the job - but Michael was more than that. He was mentally fit and alert too. He had seen the big picture and had taken it all in. He wasn't just going out for a bit of fun on a Sunday afternoon and to get out of the car at the end with a big smile on his face. He knew why he was there on the grid at 2pm. He knew what he was there to do and that was to win races. He was there to be successful and right from the first day you could see that.

Q:
He didn't stay at Jordan very long. What do you think he might have achieved had he remained with the team?

GA:
It's difficult to say. You can always look at it the other way round too. He was at the time talking to the Arrows team as well. You could ask what would he have achieved had he gone there? He would maybe have qualified around 18th or 20th at Spa rather than seventh. We talked to him that weekend about 1992. We were switching over to Yamaha engines, and he spent a particular amount of time during the practice sessions following and looking at the Yamaha-engined Brabham. At the end of it he said to us 'you've got to be a little bit careful there because I think that engine is a ship's anchor. It's not the most impressive engine in the world'. I think all those things led to him having to go somewhere else - we would not have been strong enough for Michael Schumacher. His career probably wouldn't have gone where it did go, but then who knows? In life you have to take the opportunities with open hands and get on with it. Michael took his and went to Benetton.

Q:
Michael had a long career in the top flight, but one that was repeatedly dogged by controversy all the way through. Do you view him more as the hero or the villain of the piece?

GA:
I see him as a hero. When you are at that level in any sport - be it cricket, golf, tennis or whatever - there is always a lot of skulduggery going on in the background. With Michael there were the incidents with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, and Monaco in 2006. They were all very badly done, and I'm sure they were all things he was asked to do from a distance by the team - the situation had arisen where he needed to do something. It's like a footballer taking a dive - as a sportsman you sometimes have to do these things. Everything that he did well is pushed into the background by these incidents. I think given the amount of time he raced for you are going to get these sort of controversies, but they were due to an outside influence. As a person I classify him as a hero for everything he has done.

Q:
This year Schumacher was obviously aiming to win his eighth world championship, and at one point towards the end of the season it looked very likely he would get it. In the end he didn't, but he certainly went out with his head held very high didn't he?

GA:
Yes he did. I think Michael Schumacher deserved that eighth world championship as a person, but I don't think Ferrari deserved it for what they did during the year to Renault - all the controversy over the differentials and protests and different stuff going on all year long. That was genuine Ferrari, not Michael Schumacher. Yes, it would have been lovely to have seen him become an eight-time world champion, but he went out fighting, and you have got to say that Fernando Alonso, in a car that was probably not as quick as the Ferrari, kept his nose clean, simply got on with the job in hand, won the world championship and deservedly so. He has won two world championships in a row now and at an earlier age than Michael Schumacher. It will be interesting to see what he will go on to accomplish in the future.

Q:
In your opinion was this the right time for Michael to stop?

GA:
I believe so. He is still clearly competitive and can still go out there and give the other guys a hard time, so maybe another year would have been great. Next year with the rule changes and so on it could have been very good for him and Ferrari, but at some point you've got to say 'I don't enjoy getting up in the morning to do this anymore', and I think he got to that point. It's always hard - there's never a right time or a wrong time, but I think as far as being competitive and going out with his head held high are concerned, he needed to do it now. He might have lasted one more year, but equally it might have all gone wrong. He had to just get out and get on with something else.

Q:
He has now taken on a role as an ambassador for Ferrari. Do you think we will ever see him racing again in any form in the future?

GA:
I don't think so. I don't think it's one of those things he can just visit - he could never come in and just race here and there. That's not Michael Schumacher. He is a professional racing driver - you have either got to do it or not do it. I think being an ambassador for Ferrari is a good role for him. A lot of people don't like the bloke because he does seem very selfish, but at that level you have to be. I think now he has hung up his boots he will have the mental strength to say 'that's it'.

Q:
How do you think Formula One will cope without him? Is it a chance for the new guard to shine, or will he really be missed out on the track?

GA:
I've always been a big believer in the new guard. I like the young guys coming in - they're always very excited and it's great to see them - but there has to be someone there for them to get a reference to. Michael Schumacher was that reference, and now Fernando Alonso is the new one. He won the world championship by beating Michael Schumacher, which was his biggest challenge. Now the new guys have got to come along and beat Alonso. I think there should be a few of the older guys in Formula One who get their P45s pretty soon, but at the end of the day motor racing will continue to be motor racing - it happens for today and you watch it for what you see.

Q:
You mentioned how Alonso won his two world championships quicker than Schumacher did. Do you think anyone will ever match Michael's achievements in the sport?

GA:
Alonso won in 2005 when the Bridgestone-Ferrari combination wasn't really working very well. His big competition was Kimi Raikkonen in the McLaren. They were both very strong and won seven races apiece, but in a car that was not quite as quick as the McLaren Fernando kept his head and his poise and won the world championship. In 2006 Michael Schumacher came back again. The Ferrari-Bridgestone package was good this time, but again Alonso started the season well, kept his head and his cool and came out of it at the end after a lot of controversy. I think he needed to beat Michael Schumacher fair and square, and 2006 was when that happened.

He is the man of the moment and I believe he could go on to achieve great things. It will obviously depend a lot on luck and the teams he goes to. He has changed to McLaren for 2007, which is a bit of an unknown as the team has gone through quite some upheaval with Adrian Newey leaving, but they look as if they are quite strong. The McLaren car I believe has the potential to be very good under next year's regulations regarding the tyres. I think the motivation of having Alonso there and his determination and commitment will be very strong, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Fernando nibbling at Michael's heels as far as results are concerned in the future. The only thing I'm not sure of is whether he wants it as a person. Of course he wants to win races and world championships, but I don't think he feels he has to be a ten-time world champion to beat Michael Schumacher. I think he just wants to be successful and then one day will simply say 'that's enough'.

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