Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

F1: The karting king behind Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher

updated 9:17 AM EST, Fri December 6, 2013
Sebastian Vettel is proving to be a worthy successor to fellow German driver Michael Schumacher (right) as the biggest star in Formula One. Sebastian Vettel is proving to be a worthy successor to fellow German driver Michael Schumacher (right) as the biggest star in Formula One.
HIDE CAPTION
German greats
Kings of Kerpen
Motoring mentor
The Vettel era begins
Zero to hero
The red menace
Fab four
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
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

(CNN) -- 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.

Celebrations at the Red Bull F1 Factory
Formula One champ on 4th title hopes

"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.

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

Read: Vettel - Arrogant or humble champion?

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.

Schumacher to retire from F1
Vettel's dominance could bore F1 fans

"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.

Read: Vettel's record breaking end to the season

"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."

Read: Michael Schumacher: Life in the Fast Lane

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.

Red Bull Show Run
What's behind Vettel's winning streak?

"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.

"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."

Read: 'Magic' Vettel will surpass Schumacher

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.

Sebastian has always worked hard, always challenging his opponents, and ultimately winning. All that and he still remains down to earth.
Karting mentor Gerhard Noack

"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.

Read: Who is Sebastian Vettel?

"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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Track the buzz of the 2014 Formula One season, race by race, with all the latest social reaction from motorsport experts.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Too weak. Can't handle the pressure. Susie Wolff has heard it all -- but she is determined to become the first female F1 driver in 20 years.
CNN's Amanda Davies visits the headquarters of Mercedes, the dominant team in Formula One this season.
updated 9:08 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
The big winners of this Formula One season could be road drivers rather than F1 racers, according to one former world champion.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
The Williams team welcomes the biggest rule changes to Formula One cars for a generation.
updated 3:16 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton sums up the dawn of a new Formula One era in three juicy words -- weird, mind-blowing and challenging.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Formula One is taking another step in its techno evolution this season, which could be more unpredictable than it has been for a long time.
updated 12:36 PM EST, Mon February 24, 2014
Jann Mardenborough on the similarities and differences between driving a race on a video game and driving a real F1 car.
updated 7:26 AM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Russia's President Vladimir Putin watches the men's cross-country 4 x 10km relay event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI/ POOL/ MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
How Russian president Vladimir Putin helped turn a muddy hole in the ground into a $400 million futuristic grand prix track in Sochi.
updated 7:13 PM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Formula One racing director Bernie Ecclestone talk during a ceremony of signing of an agreement to bring Formula One racing to Sochi for a Grand Prix Russia to be held in 2014, the same year the Black Sea resort hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi on October 14, 2010. Putin, whose backing was crucial in Sochi winning the right to host the Games, is due in the city on Thursday to sign an agreement for work to begin on the construction of a new 200 million dollar circuit. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER NEMENOV (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Vilified by the the international community for his government's attitude on gay rights, Russian president Vladimir Putin has found an ally.
updated 12:13 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel is bidding for a fifth consecutive drivers' championship in 2014.
He is Formula One's undisputed No. 1, and next season Sebastian Vettel will have proof of that fact emblazoned on his Red Bull.
updated 11:33 AM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
A new era of F1 looms large on the horizon in 2014, but what do the new rules mean for how we watch the sport? Get up to speed here.
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Thu October 17, 2013
Explore our interactive of one of F1's most important and complicated pieces of kit.
ADVERTISEMENT