Sabine Kehm has been Michael Schumacher’s right-hand person for over two decades and knows more about the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time than most people bar few, in a recent interview she opened up a tad on the much-missed legend.
After Schumacher called it quits on his ‘second’ career with Mercedes after the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, his P.A. Kehm may have expected her role with the seven-time F1 World Champion to ramp down but, instead, she faced her greatest challenge when he injured himself critically while leisure skiing during the final days of 2013.
Since then Kehm’s role has been to assist the family in managing one of the greatest legacies of our sport, whose privacy has been rigorously guarded by her and the family.
However earlier this month, as part of Schumacher’s 50th birthday, Kehm agreed to an interview with Beyond the Grid where she shared her memories and gave intriguing rare new insights into the much loved German driver.
Since Schumi’s freak-accident Kehm has been at Corinna Schumacher’s side and believes that the couple are unique, “Michael clearly had his family. Corinna, they were such a perfect couple, and they are still a perfect couple if you ask me.”
“When he went home and the kids would come in, Formula One was far away. He needed that privacy kept private in order to take the energy out of it. Looking from the outside as friends or people like me it was so obvious, his family has always been his charger in a way.”
“Family-wise he was — and still is — really close with his family. Secondly, Michael managed to have friends from his childhood until now. That’s a nice thing as well, he’s always had them around… he has a bunch of close and very good friends.”
Schumacher’s career was a blockbuster from day one, the years with Ferrari are the ones that have etched him into the heart of every tifosi forever, against the odds he revived the volatile and temperamental Italian team and led it to unprecedented glory.
His image to the F1 world was varied: to his legion of fans, Schumi could do absolutely no wrong he was venerated by the swathes of red flags that swirled in his honour wherever he raced. Have Ferrari ever sold so much merchandise as they did in the early 2000s?
On the other side of the spectrum, foes accused Schumacher of being cold and arrogant, combined with a fierce and uncompromising competitive spirit, not shy to engage in dark arts on track.
But Kehm paints a touching portrayal of Schumacher and his relationship with Ferrari as a team, “He wanted to have the birthdays of everybody and we needed to give Christmas wishes and presents to everybody.”
“He would always in length think about what present to give each person, that was something that was really important to him. He knew he was demanding and wanted to reward them in a way.”
“Michael has always been a very warm person, even in the racing environment. But he didn’t want this to be seen on the outside because he thought it would take away some of the competitiveness.”
“He very clearly divided those two personas. Sport at that level is a lot of mind games — he wanted to come across as confident and strong.”
Already a double F1 World Champion with Benetton, Schumacher arrived at Ferrari in 1996 and despite coming close, the first title in red only came in the fifth year.
What followed is now legend, the most successful period in Ferrari’s distinguished history in the top flight but, as history bears witness, there were five years of pain before the five years of pleasure.
Finally, that elusive first world title as a Scuderia driver finally came in 2000, breaking a 21-year title championship drought at Maranello and launching an extraordinary period of dominance thereafter.
Kehm recalled that year, “It was clear the pressure was extremely high, I felt that it was a decisive year. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the championship would not have happened.”
“I really had the feeling that I wouldn’t know what would have happened if they don’t make it. He was really working [incredibly hard] in that year and really put in everything.”
“I remember when Michael won [the 2000 title] in Suzuka – I never imagined such an explosion of emotions from the whole team. When he crossed the finish-line; people in the back of the garage were in tears. I think only then I really understood what it meant to them because they had tried for so long for so many years.”
“There were some mechanics who had been around for 25 years and they were literally really crying in tears, but ashamed they were crying so they were crying to hide it. I’ve never seen something so touching.”
“That was the moment that I really thought ‘wow’. It was even bigger than I expected it to be,” revealed Kehm who is also on the management team of Mick Schumacher, the 19-year-old son of the legend, who is following in his father’s footsteps.