F1: The karting king behind Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher

Story highlights

  • Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel were both nurtured by the same man
  • They were guided in their junior careers by Gerhard Noack in the town of Kerpen
  • Noack was introduced to karting through his friendship with the Schumacher family
  • He says four-time champion Vettel will eclipse Schumacher's record seven titles

Germany has only produced two Formula One champions, but they are two of the greatest drivers the sport has ever known -- and they can thank one man for spotting their nascent talent.

Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel have won 11 world titles between them, winning renown across the globe for their record-breaking feats.

And the story of their success started in the small town of Kerpen, where Gerhard Noack is known as the man who finds champions at the local go-kart club.

It was at this innocuous circuit, carved out of an old gravel pit, that Noack first spotted the potential of Germany's two giants of motorsport.

But his involvement in karting happened almost by accident.

"I got to know the Schumacher family, the father and mother," Noack explained to CNN's The Circuit in a rare television interview. "That's when I first really found out about kart sport.

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"That way I also met Michael Schumacher, and I enjoyed it so much, us both being in motorsport, that I stuck with it."

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    Schumacher grew up in Kerpen, where he graduated from a homemade kart at the age of four to become the benchmark for F1.

    The 44-year-old, who began his F1 career in 1991, won a record seven world championships before retiring for a second time more than 20 years after his debut season.

    It is a little ironic that after being introduced to karting by the Schumacher family, Noack would go on to mentor the man who is already well on the road to usurping Schumacher's place in F1 history.

    Vettel -- dubbed "Baby Schumi" when he made his F1 debut seven years ago -- has already won four consecutive world titles with Red Bull and collected several of the old maestro's racing records in the process.

    All this at the age of just 26 -- no wonder Noack saw his potential as Schumacher's successor.

    "Sebastian was not the first great talent after Michael," explained Noack, who also coached a generation of German F1 racers that included Ralf Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld.

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    "There are many great race drivers that all came from this club but Sebastian was the first one where I felt a special connection.

    "He's got something that Michael has too, a very special personality, great will and a lot of talent, and that led me to decide to look after him in that way.

    "The first time I saw Sebastian was in 1996. He was a bambini driver and racing in Kerpen.

    "We were watching a race particularly closely and it was in the rain. Some of the drivers had changed to rain tires, Sebastian continued to drive with slicks (dry weather tires).

    "He was very dominant compared to the others even without rain tires, and that impressed me so much that I said I want to give it another go and see if I can manage this young driver to get into Formula One.

    "After the long gap between Michael and Sebastian, I just decided to approach the Vettel family and try to support such a young driver."

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    Noack decided to temporarily rent out his business to help guide Vettel's career or, in his own words, "smooth the way for him."

    "After all those years in motorsport I knew a few important people and, thank god, we were lucky to always find the right people at the right time to support Sebastian," the businessman explained.

    "I myself was his mechanic, his coach, all those things that you need in karting. We went to the races together, we lived together, at the weekends at least, and the family was always there, too.

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    "I did everything that was needed also to sort out the financial background, to find the right people and the right sponsors, and luckily we always did."

    Those connections helped him sign Vettel to Red Bull Racing's junior academy at the age of 13.

    After a stint as a reserve for the BMW Sauber team, the young racer began his first full season in F1 with Red Bull's junior Toro Rosso team in 2008.

    This year Vettel became one of just four men to win the F1 world title four times, and Noack predicts his former charge could one day surpass all Schumacher has achieved.

    "I believe that Sebastian will certainly be able to get the seven titles," Noack said.

    "But a lot depends on whether the team he's with at the time is competitive..

    "At the moment there really is no need to change the team. Red Bull are great, it's where the best people are, and he proves it at every race.

    "At some point he might change the team. I think in the next few years there is no question about it."

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    Schumacher, who won his world titles with Benetton and Ferrari, recently conceded in an interview with his former Mercedes team that he is happy for Vettel to take over his mantle.

    "If someone can break all these records then I prefer him to do it than somebody else," said Schumacher, who Vettel cited as his inspiration growing up.

    "I did what I did in my time and he's doing it in his time -- I'm glad it is him in the end."

    Schumacher bowed out of the F1 spotlight at the end of 2012 after a second career with the Silver Arrows, and revealed since his retirement that he too has been helping find the next generation of racing stars.

    "I'm looking after young drivers in the go-kart area," explained Schumacher, who occasionally returns to Kerpen to drop in on his racing alma mater.

    Vettel is likely to be in the spotlight for many years to come, but he too stays in touch with his roots -- and the man who helped his talent grow.

    "The last time we talked in person was at the Nurburgring (home of the German Grand Prix)," revealed Noack.

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    "Since he won his fourth title we have only been able to speak on the phone. I hope we will have time again to go out for a meal or have time for a longer chat.

    "We have very little time for each other, but that will improve in the winter months."

    And does Noack see a changein the boy who has become Red Bull's all-conquering racer?

    "He has grown up, that's the only thing that's changed about him," Noack reflected.

    "Other than that he is, in my view at least, still the same Sebastian that he was when he was eight years old. I never notice that anything much has changed about him.

    "He always worked hard, and above all, he has the will to persevere, always challenging his opponents, and ultimately winning.

    "That's always been the case with him and you can still see that in him today. All that and he still remains down to earth."

    The same could be said of Noack.

    He may have nurtured two racing superstars but he is content in Kerpen, running his karting business -- and keeping one eye on track for the next racing prodigy.