The man behind the Vettel tribute helmet in Hockenheim

This weekend Sebastian Vettel is wearing a special tribute helmet to one of Mercedes-Benz’s longest-serving drivers, Bernd Schneider. Although Schneider’s Formula 1 record wasn’t much to speak of, his subsequent career in the DTM and FIA GTs with Mercedes was absolutely stellar.

Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
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Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
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Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
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Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Helmet of Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
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Vettel grew up racing on the DTM support bill in Germany, and his two seasons apiece in Formula BMW and European Formula 3 coincided with Schneider winning the DTM crown twice (to add to the three titles he’d already won, as well as an FIA GT world title).

Schneider is the most successful driver in DTM history, with 43 wins and over 100 podium finishes. And though he retired from mainstream competition at the end of the 2008 season, he’s since been popping up in GT racing at events around the world.

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Schneider is also synonymous with Mercedes, which is celebrating 125 years in motorsport this weekend and he will be present for the festivities. Vettel – who’s a renowned student of the sport – chose the moment to honour one of his heroes at his home Grand Prix.

“Bernd Schneider, touring car legend,” said Vettel when asked what his tribute helmet was about. “He turned 55, I've got number five on the car, I thought it was a good time, a nice time, he's a close friend and I think he's one of the best German drivers in history.

“Obviously a shame he didn't make it [in F1] – he was in Formula 1, but with a really poor car. I think he had the potential to do a lot more, but what he did in touring cars was pretty impressive.”

As Vettel says, Schneider never got a chance to seriously impress in F1. He drove for Zakspeed in 1988 and ’89 – the latter being a wretched season where he failed to qualify (mostly failing to pre-qualify!) for all but two races. His final part-time opportunities came with Arrows in 1990, where a 12th place in Phoenix was followed by non-qualification later in the season in Spain.

Bernd Schneider, Zakspeed 891
Bernd Schneider, Zakspeed 891
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Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

#25 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3: Bernd Schneider
#25 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3: Bernd Schneider
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Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes C-Class
Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes C-Class
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Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Bernd Schneider, AMG-Mercedes C-Klasse
Bernd Schneider, AMG-Mercedes C-Klasse
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Photo by: Hoch Zwei

Bernd Schneider, Mark Webber, Klaus Ludwig, Ricardo Zonta, Marcel Tiemann, Jean-Marc Gounon, Christophe Bouchut, Bernd Mayländer with the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR
Bernd Schneider, Mark Webber, Klaus Ludwig, Ricardo Zonta, Marcel Tiemann, Jean-Marc Gounon, Christophe Bouchut, Bernd Mayländer with the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR
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Photo by: Daimler AG

Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo2, Klaus Ludwig, AMG Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo2
Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo2, Klaus Ludwig, AMG Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo2
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Photo by: Hoch Zwei

Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes CLK
Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes CLK
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Photo by: Daimler AG

#6 AMG Mercedes CLR LMGTP: Bernd Schneider, Pedro Lamy, Franck Lagorce
#6 AMG Mercedes CLR LMGTP: Bernd Schneider, Pedro Lamy, Franck Lagorce
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Photo by: John Brooks

Bernd Schneider, Mercedes AMG CLK, HWA AG
Bernd Schneider, Mercedes AMG CLK, HWA AG
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Photo by: Motorsport Images

#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, GTD: Bernd Schneider
#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, GTD:  Bernd Schneider
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Photo by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

By 1991, he joined the DTM driving a Zakspeed-run Mercedes (he’d previously played some star cameos for Ford in the late ’80s) before hooking up with AMG and becoming its factory-blessed point man for many seasons. In many ways he was ‘Mr DTM’ – and despite its collapse following the ill-starred ITC of 1996, he played a major part in re-igniting interest in the series when it was reborn for 2000 (in between which he’d won 10 FIA GT1 races with Mercedes).

“Being good is not a question of age,” he once told me as I questioned his immense staying power. “It doesn’t matter if you are 24 or 42, when you are good you can win races in the DTM if you push hard for it. Maybe it doesn’t get any easier as you get older, but as long as you are good, you can win.

“I don’t care how old the guys against me are. As soon as you’re not good enough to win races, you should retire, definitely. It doesn’t matter how old you are. In this business, your results make the decisions for you.”

And those results made Vettel decide to honour him this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

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