Former Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug revealed that “secret negotiations” took place to bring Michael Schumacher to McLaren, which would have seen him partner Mika Hakkinen at the team in 1999.
The two were fierce World Championship rivals at the time, as Hakkinen had just beaten Schumacher in his Ferrari to the 1998 title, but still the attractive proposition of driving an Adrian Newey-designed car led to talks for Schumacher to join McLaren and create a super-team.
The prospect of having the two greats competing in the same machinery would have been an enticing rivalry for fans, but the move never came to pass.
Haug, who had known Schumacher – then a double World Champion having won the title twice with Benetton – since his days in junior categories, revealed that the talks to team the two drivers together ultimately broke down but didn’t say why.
“I knew Michael from when he was a Formula 3 driver when I was a journalist, and he came to Mercedes before I was there – he was already there as a junior,” Haug said on Formula 1’s Beyond the Grid podcast.
“We were fierce competitors, but at the race track and in the paddock, we always had a good relationship.
“I joked that we needed to do it [race] together some time. There were some secret negotiations in 1998 but it never came together.
“In theory it could have happened, but it didn’t come together – it is what it is. It wasn’t something that was completely impossible because we [McLaren] were really good in ’98 with the new formula, Adrian Newey car, so it was attractive for any driver.
“Michael could have won a championship earlier on, he could have won in ’99 without his accident, we could have won 2000 without a car failure.
“It was a great period of time and it was a very intense fight, best described with the 2000 race in Spa, with the two guys [battling].”
Haug did eventually get his man as Schumacher returned to Formula 1 with Mercedes in 2010.
While a solitary pole position and podium were the peak of Schumacher’s success upon his F1 comeback in an upper-midfield Mercedes, Haug credited the seven-time World Champion for how he helped lay the foundation for the dominant force the team became in the turbo hybrid era.
“He is a great manager as well,” Haug added. “He is a really, really special guy. Having fun as well, working hard, looking after other people, knowing the names of the mechanics and mechanics’ kids and so on – you know all these stories. It’s just the truth.
“I rate him very highly – great memories.”
Schumacher’s son Mick now competes in F1 with Haas, but may potentially be in line for a move to Alfa Romeo for 2022