Briatore: Schumacher battled against ‘big guys’
Lewis Hamilton is just one title away from equaling Michael Schumacher’s record tally of seven world crowns, but Flavio Briatore believes the German driver’s merits are far greater given the much tougher level of competition he faced in his career.
As Benetton’s team boss, the astute Briatore poached Schumacher from Jordan days after his F1 debut with the latter at Spa in the summer of 1991.
The two men enjoyed a successful partnership over the course of the following four seasons, with Schumacher winning his first two world championships before moving to Ferrari in 1996 where the German add another five crowns to his outstanding tally.
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Looking back on his former driver’s achievements, Briatore underlines the very different environment in which Schumacher raced compared to the conditions in which Hamilton prevailed.
“Michael was fighting with big guys. You need to recognise that when Michael arrived [in F1], the climate was tough,” said the Italian, speaking on Formula 1’s podcast Beyond the Grid.
“You’re talking about Nigel Mansell, you’re talking about Senna. Now it’s less, the competition. You have two drivers, three drivers… Nobody puts the pressure [on Hamilton].
“If he was driving like a taxi driver with a hand outside of the car, [he’d still be] winning everything because he’s a super driver, he’s fantastic.”
Assessing the current crop of talent in F1, Briatore singles out Hamilton and Max Verstappen as the sport’s only real stars, although Charles Leclerc could make it a threesome at the top.
“There’s only two stars in Formula 1 – Hamilton and Verstappen,” said Briatore.
“Leclerc is young, big balls, which he’s demonstrating. I believe, if I was Ferrari, I’d have put Leclerc two years ago into the place of Raikkonen, because you know, with Raikkonen you’re going nowhere, you’ll never win anything with him…
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“I’d [have taken] the risk to put Leclerc. Leclerc is a really, really strong guy. But Leclerc is not recognisable now. Verstappen for me is the more incredible driver. He’s fantastic in the way of overtaking.”
Briatore is no stranger to the Verstappen family, having managed Max’s father Jos at Benetton in 1994. But the 69-year-old Italian candidly insists that father and son only have the name in common.
“The name is the same, but the driver is completely different,” he said.
“I tell the father, ‘Jesus Christ, I wish I had your son in the car and not you!’”
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