Seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher would have “probably” excelled in the World Rally Championship.
That is the view of former grand prix driver Marc Surer, who believes Schumacher possessed the required adaptability to thrive in rallying.
Schumacher stands as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, having become the first man to win seven World titles – a figure only matched by Lewis Hamilton in 2020 – as well as recording 91 race wins and 68 pole positions.
Michael Schumacher: the greatest driver rallying never had?
After becoming World Champion for the first time with the Benetton team in 1994/95, Schumacher achieved most of his success with Ferrari, with whom he won five consecutive titles between 2000 and 2004.
Schumacher retired from F1 for the first time in 2006 before returning for a three-year stint with Mercedes in 2010. He has not been seen in public since suffering lifechanging injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013.
Speaking to the Formula1.de YouTube channel, Surer – who made 82 F1 starts between 1979 and 1986 – argued F1 and rallying “cannot be compared because they are simply two different disciplines.”
However, he did suggest that Schumacher had all the qualities necessary to “probably” make it as a leading rally driver, commenting that “he was simply able to adapt to the [changing] conditions.”
Surer went on to add that is impossible to determine whether Schumacher or Walter Rohrl, who won two WRC titles in 1980 and 1982, is the greatest German driver in history.
He claimed Rohrl had “proven that he can become World Champion with different cars” after winning titles behind the wheel of a Fiat and an Opel.
“That is a fine art of driving,” he explained. “Michael Schumacher was simply the specialist who perfected everything.
“But he was also someone, as we have seen, who could drive sensationally in the rain, for example.”
Of the current drivers, Surer argued that reigning three-time World Champion Max Verstappen would succeed in a rally car, claiming the transition would be easier for him than current WRC Champion Kalle Rovanpera, whose dominance of rallying at the age of just 23 has been likened to Verstappen’s impact on F1.
Rovanpera, the newly crowned two-time World Champion, recently announced that he will undertake a part-time program with Toyota in 2024 in order to “recharge his batteries” – mirroring Verstappen’s frequent predictions throughout 2023 that he too will likely retire young.
“I do believe that Verstappen, who is a very special racing driver, would be good in a rally car,” Surer said.
“He could adapt more quickly because he would get off the centrifugal force. And he’s not afraid either. He probably wouldn’t be too interested in the trees.
“Formula 1 is a different playground. A rally car is relatively easy to drive. A pimped-up production car, if you like. They handle well, you can play with them.
“[In F1] we’re talking about 5g these days. To be able to react reflexively in a bend and not just hang in your seat and lean your head against something.
“But to be able to react? That’s another dimension. And also the speed when you’re travelling wheel to wheel at well over 300kmh.
“It’s easier to switch from 5g to a car that builds up maybe two – or at most 2.5g – of centrifugal force.”
Several drivers from F1 backgrounds have enjoyed success on the rally scene in recent years, with former BMW-Sauber, Renault and Williams star Robert Kubica winning the WRC2 title – the WRC’s equivalent of the F2 feeder series – in 2013.
Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 World Champion, also spent two years competing in the WRC after leaving Ferrari at the end of the 2009 F1 season.
Nine-time WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb was heavily linked with a switch to F1 in 2009 after impressing in test appearances for Red Bull at Barcelona and Silverstone.
However, Loeb’s plans to make his F1 debut at the 2009 season finale in Abu Dhabi were shelved after governing body the FIA denied him a superlicence.
More recently, eight-time Champion Sebastien Ogier spent a day testing a 2011-spec Red Bull RB7 at the Austrian Grand Prix circuit in July 2017.