‘I still have a friendship’ with Schumacher, says former Ferrari boss

(From left) Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher celebrate victory at the Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on Sept. 10, 2006, in Monza, Italy.

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Jean Todt says he is still friends with Michael Schumacher, even in the wake of the seven-time world champion’s serious head injuries.

Little is known about the highly-confidential condition of Schumacher today, more than two years after he fell whilst skiing in the French Alps.

But Todt, once the boss at Ferrari during the Schumacher reign and now FIA president, said the sad fate of the 47-year-old German is still "difficult to comprehend."

"I remember how worried I was after he left Ferrari and started racing motorcycles. So I was glad when he came back to F1 with Mercedes," he told Germany’s Sport Bild.

On the Ferrari days, Todt looks back with fondness, saying Schumacher was the key to that success.

"When things go bad, the Italians tend – as we have seen in recent years – to blame each other. The chassis people say it is the engine. The engine people say it is the chassis. Or we do not have the right driver.

"With Michael, I solved at least one of these problems," he said.

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Actually, Todt said the Ferrari savior might easily have been Ayrton Senna, as the great Brazilian expressed interest in joining Ferrari in 1994.

"He wanted to come to Ferrari and Ferrari wanted him," he told Auto Bild Motorsport.

"I had a long meeting with him (in 1993) and I was fascinated by the sound of his voice — he spoke very slowly and extremely clearly."

But Todt said Ferrari already had Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger under contract, to which Senna replied: "In Formula One, contracts have no value."

Todt disagreed, but "I called him again to make him an offer for 1995, but he declined as he had already decided on Williams".

And so Ferrari snapped up Schumacher for 1996.

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"To me he was the only driver at the time who could make Ferrari world champion again. It was the combination of talent, dedication, loyalty. And he was a reference for the engineers."

Today, Todt says it is up to Schumacher’s German successor, Sebastian Vettel, to take Ferrari back to the top.

"When I came to Ferrari," said Todt, "on a scale from one to 10, it was a three. But when Sebastian came it was a seven and he has made progress quickly."

As for his relationship with the great Schumacher today, Todt frowns.

"My relationship with him has changed of course, but I still have a relationship with him," he insists. "I’m still his friend.

"And my relationship with Corinna and the family has become much more intense. I feel a responsibility to stand by them."

Meanwhile, Todt is watching the career of Mick Schumacher, the 16-year-old son of F1 legend Michael, with great interest.

For 2016, Mick has been signed up by the Ferrari-linked Prema team in Formula 4.

Todt told Germany’s Sport Bild: "Mick is fantastic; a great kid.

"That he has talent is unquestionable. Now it will depend on whether he is in the right team, has the right environment and how he handles the pressure," Todt added.

Also charging towards F1 is Giuliano Alesi who, like Mick Schumacher, is also 16.

He has been signed by Ferrari’s driver development "academy" for 2016, and will race in the F1 support series GP3.

Like Schumacher, Alesi’s father Jean also drove for Ferrari, and he told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport: "Giuliano has got into a big family, and he will stay there for a long time.

"I have supported Giuliano’s wish to get into the world of motor sport. He grew up in this world – my friends are drivers and managers," Frenchman Alesi added.

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