Before entering Formula 1, Michael Schumacher drove Sauber Mercedes sports prototypes in which he developed specific skills that were useful to him later in his career, although he was not the fastest in them, explained his longtime manager Willi Weber.
Although the path of today’s drivers to Formula 1 is very similar and includes top results in Formula 3 and Formula 2, in the early nineties this was not the case, so drivers used to come to Formula 1 from different racing series.
Before debuting in Formula 1 at the 1991 Belgian GP in Jordan, Schumacher became the champion of German Formula 3 in 1990 and made his debut in sports prototype racing for Sauber Mercedes while in 1991 he continued to compete in that series and also competed in the DTM .
“I pushed him to compete in those series,” Schumacher manager Willi Webber told Motorsport-Total.
“Some journalists attacked me for ruining his career, that I should never have done that.”
Instead, Schumacher was expected to drive in a Formula 3000 that was on ‘shaky legs and in which you never knew which team to go to’.
“First, it was too expensive, and second, too insecure.”
“I believed that Group C [the sports prototype endurance race], with Sauber, was the right decision.”
“He learned to work with more than four mechanics, he had to learn to drive qualifying, deal with a team that’s in the public focus and a lot of other things, so I thought it was a good stop in his career.”
“He learned a lot for the future, you might have noticed that later.”
Former F1 driver Stefan Johansson, who also competed in sports cars before and after his F1 career, agrees with Weber.
“When you drive prototypes in the long run, you have to improvise all the time. You have traffic, different weather conditions, dirt on the track and a lot of other things. You have to improvise and drive with feeling all the time.”
“It’s even harder to be fast in such conditions than just driving a car at the limit when everything is ideal. Every driver I’ve worked with will encourage you to drive sports cars as much as possible because there is no better training.”
“You need a special technique to extract speed in those conditions. Honestly, I think Schumacher in the F1 had an advantage because he drove sports cars for a few years.”
Although Schumacher was very good at Sauber, he was not at the level of his teammates, but the goal wasn’t to be the best and fastest but to learn as much as possible.
“It wasn’t his thing, it’s not that kind of car. You can’t throw those cars into corners like a Formula Ford or a Formula 3 or later a Formula 1 that he drove with the precision of a Swiss watch.”
“The car didn’t suit his driving style.”
“My goal was to learn to deal with big teams, with the public, with journalists. It was all part of the learning phase.”
“It wasn’t a goal to master those cars, that wasn’t the point. So I wasn’t disappointed that he wasn’t always the fastest. He was the most consistent, but not the fastest. But I didn’t expect that,” concluded Weber .