Michael Schumacher has pointed the finger at his first Formula One boss Eddie Jordan as he recalled his Grand Prix debut 20 years ago. At Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, the seven time world champion is marking the passing of two decades since he burst onto the scene with Jordan.
It was a one-off event as Schumacher, then 22, was snapped up after Belgium by Benetton after qualifying in seventh place. But his actual race lasted less than a lap when he retired with a broken clutch.
"The story is that we had problems in the warmup," Schumacher, now racing with Mercedes, wrote in a celebratory column for Auto Motor und Sport. "I pointed it out at the de-briefing and we talked about whether we should change the clutch or not, but Eddie said that would cost too much money. Then it broke," added the German.
Schumacher also recalled how he and his then manager Willi Weber had stayed in a hostel that weekend. "I remember I was surprised because I had thought 'Yes, I am now in Formula One, the premier class'. I was not particularly bothered with the hostel except that it was cold and the heater didn't work," he said.
Weber had negotiated his charge's F1 debut after Jordan regular Bertrand Gachot was jailed for attacking a London taxi driver.
Weber told Jordan that Schumacher knew Spa well. "I have to clarify the story that we lied about it," Schumacher said. "Eddie had asked Willi if I had raced there before and Willi said yes, because he could not imagine that I had never been there."
Jordan reportedly wanted to draft in the experienced Stefan Johansson, but Schumacher's Sauber-Mercedes sports car team - headed by Peter Sauber - offered $150,000 in sponsorship.
"That was a pretty penny for a single Grand Prix," Sauber told the SID news agency this week. The Swiss believes that Mercedes' other hotshoe, Heinz Harald Frentzen, "had a similar amount of talent and perhaps even a little more".
But Schumacher was "a hard worker, very ambitious, mentally strong and also so well prepared physically. It soon became apparent that he was a very special talent", added Sauber. "You also need talent and technical knowledge and if you get all these factors close to 100 per cent, you get Michael Schumacher who wins seven titles."
Sauber said Schumacher or Weber never repaid the $150,000. "He didn't have to," Sauber explained. "He was under contract to us and it was quite normal that we allowed him to have his first race. "Ultimately it didn't work for us because Mercedes didn't come in as a works team and so we could not keep him."
That was a pretty penny for a single Grand Prix
Schumacher retired from F1 at the end of 2006 but returned three years later with Mercedes, where he is under contract for next year and even considering prolonging his comeback. Eddie Jordan told The Sun this week: "Michael really is an old fart. He's had his time. "I don't think his legacy has been affected yet by what has happened in his comeback. But he has to make sure he gets the timing of his exit from F1 right."