NEWS
08/27/2011 09:03 EDT | Updated 10/27/2011 05:12 EDT

20 years in F1: Michael Schumacher remembers his debut doubts at Spa in 1991

SPA, Belgium - Michael Schumacher struggled to believe he would ever win one Grand Prix race when he made his Formula One debut at the Belgian Grand Prix 20 years ago, let alone a record-breaking 91.

The 42-year-old German still vividly remembers the sinking feeling he felt on Aug. 25, 1991 as he prepared to take on the likes of Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost on F1's most challenging circuit.

"I was doubtful whether my quality was good enough to compete with these guys. You see them as untouchables," Schumacher said. "You had Sennas, Prosts, Mansells and so on. I didn't really think I could match (up)."

He didn't on that day. Schumacher failed to complete a lap on the notoriously hard Spa circuit in 1991, when a clutch problem ended his first race and Senna sped to victory.

Twenty years on, Schumacher experienced more misfortune at Spa when, barely a minute into Saturday's qualifying session, his Mercedes slid across the track backward and hit the crash barriers, sending the car's back rear wheel spinning off.

He will start Sunday's race in last place.

"I do not know what happened," Schumacher said over the team radio. "Something unexpected happened."

There have been plenty of incidents over a glittering career in which he surpassed all the greats to win a record seven F1 titles, two with Benetton and five straight with Ferrari. Along the way.

Schumacher insists he has few regrets over a career which saw some very heated battles, particularly with Britain's Damon Hill.

"I would do certain things differently, but then in life you have to make some mistakes," he said. "All in all, I guess the vest that I'm wearing, that I'm wearing inside me, is pretty white, and I'm pretty happy about this. I don't have many regrets and overall, I certainly feel very excited and proud."

When Schumacher eventually retires from racing, he does not plan to stick around in a management role.

"Honestly, I'm not really intending, right now, because I'm fully focused and happy in what I'm doing," he said. "I have, in the past, never really expressed a wish to be in an operational area in terms of management or something."

Although Schumacher's immense achievements will live long in the memory, his countryman Sebastian Vettel is widely tipped as capable of matching them.

The 24-year-old is well on track to defend his F1 title this season and has already won 16 career GPs.

Whatever Vettel goes on to achieve, he will always remember how he once revered Schumacher.

"When I was go-karting, Michael was sort of all the kids' hero," Vettel said. "When we had this race in Kerpen at the end of the season, he handed over the trophies and it was very special to see him, to meet him, to shake his hand."

Vettel first saw Schumacher racing in F1 when his father took him to Hockenheim.

"We went all the way down to the first chicane. It was raining like crazy and Michael had this yellow Benetton at the time," Vettel said. "To see a Formula One car and then to see Michael passing ... it was really very special."

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LACK OF LEADERSHIP: Renault's decision to drop Nick Heidfeld and pick Bruno Senna was because of Heidfeld's lack of leadership qualities, according to Renault boss Eric Boullier.

Senna is racing at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. The Brazilian will keep his seat at the Italian GP in Monza, and probably until the end of the season unless Heidfeld gets reinstated after a High Court hearing next month.

Although Heidfeld led Renault to a credible third place at the Malaysian GP in April, Boullier expected more from the 34-year-old German. Heidfeld is only two points ahead of his Renault teammate Vitaly Petrov, who is the No. 2 driver.

"When you are slower than Vitaly most of the time, it's difficult for him to push the team and set up himself as team leader," Boullier said. "I was not very happy with his speed and overall performance as an experienced driver. Nick is a nice guy, but leadership didn't work."

Heidfeld was contracted to race for Renault after Polish driver Robert Kubica suffered career-threatening injuries driving in a rally car six months ago.

Despite murmurs that Kubica could return for the Brazilian GP at the end of the season, this is unlikely to happen.

"I don't believe so. He is recovering well, but this last operation is another pain to go through," added Boullier. "Even if he is recovered physically, he will still have to get back his feeling in the car."

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LEARNING TO LOSE: Sebastian Vettel doesn't have time to sulk when he fails to win a Grand Prix race, because he is too busy analyzing the reasons why it happened.

The defending Formula One champion won five of the first six GPs this season and seemed to be coasting to another title, before a sudden dip saw him win only one of the last five and none of the last three races.

While some leading sports stars refuse to countenance defeat, Vettel thinks there is much to be learned from losing.

"It might sound strange, but losing is much more important than winning," the 24-year-old said. "The possibility to learn is much higher. When you win a race, everything was easy and everything looks great.

"You just move on and tend not to reflect, whereas when you lose and get beaten there is a reason behind that," he added. "To understand those reasons for yourself and for the team is very important."