The drivers in the races of the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship this weekend competed for the Ravenol cup. The lubricant manufacturer was not only responsible for the winners’ trophies themselves but also for having them presented by a celebrity: ex-Formula 1 star Ralf Schumacher in his role as Ravenol brand ambassador did the honours after round two on Sunday. In an interview he looks back on his own career which also continues a chapter in motorsport history: the German karting pioneer Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips was the initiator of the karting track in Kerpen on which Schumacher and many other top-class drivers learned the tricks of their trade. Today, after having ended his career as a driver, Schumacher who was born in nearby Hürth, is active as the principal of his own karting and single-seater racing team, now continuing the tradition of promoting young talent with modern means: plenty of topics for an exciting interview...
???: You followed the race of the historic Formula 1 vehicles from the commentator’s booth – can these racing cars be compared with those you personally contested 180 Grand Prix events in?
Ralf Schumacher: “I feel that this would not be appropriate – every era has its specific characteristics. Looking at these historic vehicles, I take my hat off to the drivers that raced in them. The safety standards were obviously a far cry from the ones today – not only in terms of the cars but also in terms of the tracks. It also took courage to battle for every tenth in these single-seaters.”
???: Your career started on the karting track in Kerpen with its long tradition and took you all the way into Formula 1. You have become part of motorsport history yourself. Is that something your conscious of as a driver?
Ralf Schumacher: No. It simply worked out that way. You have to live it – and also want it. And it’s something you definitely can’t plan for. In my case, it just grew into that. Obviously, it’s a shame that the karting track will disappear at the end of 2020 due to opencast mining for soft coal. Unfortunately, there are no realistic alternatives to it at the moment. So in that respect, this part of the tradition will probably come to an end.
???: You’re continuing the tradition in a different way, developing young kart drivers as a team principal to prepare them for a single-seater career. How did this come about?
Ralf Schumacher: “I’ve always dreamt of having my own team and I really enjoy working with young people. The competition in this field is extremely tough as well. In international races the top 10 in qualifying are often within one tenth of each other – that’s a huge challenge and the pressure to perform is high too. As a team principal you have to also focus on the young drivers and their development. The first ones I took care of from an early age are now entering Formula 4. It’s great to see how these young campaigners have developed. By now the team has evolved into a sizable outfit.”
???: These are young drivers just like you used to be yourself years ago. Looking back, do you remember your path and do you see yourself in these young drivers?
Ralf Schumacher: “To be honest: I don’t. Obviously, I have a lot of experience under my belt and know how a young driver may be ticking. But, for my part, I’ve always looked ahead. I had many great moments in motorsport but I always moved on whenever something was over and done with. And in Formula 1, if not before, with the many races, tests and other commitments, time was always in fast-forward mode anyhow. There was no time for looking back.”
???: You are a brand ambassador of the lubricant manufacturer Ravenol. Putting the question in slightly provocative terms: does the type of lubricant make any difference at all?
Ralf Schumacher: “In karting and in Formula 4 we also work together with Ravenol as a team. This is an important aspect for us: the oil in the engine is like blood for humans – long life and performance being crucial. And especially in the high-performance range the differences become clearly noticeable. We battle for every single horsepower, so working with a good and committed partner in the field of lubricants is really important too. But in the field of classic cars this is relevant as well. I personally own a number of old vehicles and had to learn that modern oils are often totally unsuitable for these engines. You fill them into the unit at the top and they’ll run out again at the bottom. That’s why special oils for classic cars are very important.”
???: What is your personal favourite in the historic range?
Ralf Schumacher: “In my garage I have Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz cars – and some US models. They always impress me because they had amazing comfort features installed in them as far back as in the 50s. But even though I own a few old cars, I’m no expert in historic motorsport. Obviously, I saw a lot of fantastic cars here in the paddock – my personal favourite so far has been the BMW M1 from the DRM Revival.”