One of F1’s longest-serving and most respected journalists has a sad update about his friend Michael Schumacher.
74-year-old Roger Benoit, who has written for decades about Formula 1 for the Swiss newspaper Blick, has known the great German since his debut in 1991.
He says Schumacher even gifted him the yellow Benetton overalls in which he won his very first grand prix at Spa in 1992.
“Yes, I ran into Schumi and Willi Weber and I said ‘I’d love some overalls’. And so I got them as a gift after the first Spa victory in 1992,” Benoit said.
He said he was always friends with the F1 legend even though they often argued.
“I remember before Mika Hakkinen’s serious accident in 1995, we always used to bet on which lap the McLaren driver would retire. So after that we would bet on Schumi’s results,” Benoit recalled.
“Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore, Jean Todt and many others joined in. It was also a tradition that we smoked cigars after the races, with Karl-Heinz Zimmermann, Schumacher and I together in Bernie’s motorhome – for a beer as well.
“We regularly played backgammon as well, mainly for fun – usually it was for 10 Deutschmarks or something.”
At Benoit’s 400th grand prix at Hockenheim in 1998, the Swiss journalist says he was presented with a “giant cake” that was designed so a “nice lady” jumped out as a surprise.
“Paid for by Bernie and Michael,” he reveals.
It wasn’t Schumacher’s only present for Benoit.
“Schumi gave me a red Ferrari sweater. I remember it had the Marlboro logo on the sleeves and Norbert Haug called me after I wore it on a talk show. He was so upset and said that I couldn’t be objective anymore as I wore a Ferrari sweater,” he said.
Benoit says he also fell out with Schumacher on a few occasions – like when he criticised the German for not attending Ayrton Senna’s funeral, or when he told me he would never forgive me for the ‘Schummel-Schumi’ headline.
“I was also critical of his Mercedes comeback in 2010 and he didn’t talk to me anymore. Then at Suzuka in 2011 I was smoking a cigar in a small path next to the paddock and Schumacher walked past me,” said Benoit.
“After two meters, he stopped, came back, hit my knee with his hand and said ‘Let’s forget everything and start from the beginning’.”
When asked what he would say to the now 54-year-old if he bumped into him on the same path, Benoit answered: “I would first be surprised, then happy and have a beer with him.
“He also owes me dinner because he promised me that if I fell below 80 kilos. At some point he had come up to me and said ‘Roger, you’re getting fat!’
“Schumi promised me dinner but he will probably owe me that forever.”
The implication is that, as one of the people who knew Schumacher the best throughout his F1 career, Benoit knows that the great German has not been able to recover from his brain injuries sustained in a late 2013 skiing crash.
Benoit, however, says he doesn’t know that for sure.
“But there’s only one answer to this question,” he insisted. “Mick gave it in 2022 in one of his rare interviews when he said ‘I’d give anything to talk to Dad again’.
“This sentence said everything about how his father has been doing for over 3,500 days now. A case without hope.”