Jochen Mass, who walked away from Formula 1 in 1982, says he was responsible for convincing Michael Schumacher to sign for Ferrari instead of Williams in the mid-1990s.
Mass started over 100 Grands Prix, competing for teams such as McLaren, Arrows and Surtees. He stepped back from the sport after a horrific accident involving Mauro Baldi in the 1982 French Grand Prix.
Twelve years into his retirement, Mass was then offered a test by Sir Frank Williams in Alain Prost’s 1993 world championship-winning FW15C. The car was incredibly sophisticated and was wrought with numerous driver-aids.
The Williams team looked to be the team of choice for any driver in the field, with Schumacher reportedly set to make the switch to the team for the 1996 season after spending four years with Benetton.
However, Mass says he persuaded long-time friend Schumacher to sign with Ferrari instead, believing that any success with Williams would be overlooked given the dominance of the team.
Both Mass and Schumacher were teammates together at Sauber-Mercedes during the 1991 World Sportscar championship where they developed a close relationship with Mass becoming a mentor to his young German compatriot.
“I thought the car, with all the help it had with the electronics and so on, was fantastic to drive.” Mass told the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“So, I said ‘with only this car can you become World Champion.’
“Seriously, the car was so nice it was ridiculous. It was ridiculous from the effort, or let’s say the non-existing effort to drive it. It was fast, wonderful and it so felt good; everything was perfect.
“Then Michael called me up and he said ‘I’m going to drive for Williams next year’.
“So, I said ‘Fantastic Michael, really good’. You know, because I liked Frank a lot and wanted him to have the best driver.
“But, for Michael, I said listen ‘Whatever you win now, it’s the car, it’s not you, the car is too good. You need Ferrari, get it out of the trough it is in, pull it out and make them champions again, you would be King of Italy’.
“He said ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ but a month later he called me up saying ‘I’m going to Ferrari’.
“Of course, I felt sorry in a way for Frank, but these championships, if you have a very superior car, of course, have less weight than if you make Ferrari World Champions again.”
Mass insisted that Schumacher did have his heart set on a drive at Williams before being convinced to race for Ferrari.
“Of course he wanted to drive for Williams,” Mass said.
“Had I have said to him ‘great, super idea, do it’, he would have done it.”
Schumacher finished the 1996 season third, behind both Williams who eased to another dominant title-winning campaign.
However, the British team would only one further championship the following season before Schumacher and Ferrari would begin their charge towards an unconquerable spree of success across the early 2000s.