The autograph collecting at Spa was tough but all in all successful.
Michael Schumacher – one of the toughest writer in Formula One
At the beginning I would like to explain shortly, why I was able to meet him so often.
During the last 12 years I was lucky to build some relationships in Formula One. That is the reason why I got Paddock Passes, Paddock Club Passes or press accreditations. Without these special passes it is very difficult to get nice autographs of him. (Hunting at airports or hotels is ok, but the signings are bad)
My first get-together with Michael was in Spa-Francorchamps 1995. I participated at his official fan club meeting in front of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix and tried to get his signature. But there was no chance. He was surrounded by too many fans and quitted signing after 8 or 9 autographs. Every time Michael is belted by too many people, he escapes. The first successful meeting with him was in Hockenheim (German GP race track) 1996. I wanted to know how the hotel-hunting would be. So I travelled to the Holiday Inn Hotel in Walldorf near Mannheim. Early in the morning Michael came out of the hotel and signed a few items. I was very happy to get my picture signed. From this day on I decided to hunt at other places, because his signature was not very nice.
In Spa-Francorchamps 1996 I had paddock access for the first time as a guest of Mercedes. I met Michael late at night and he signed. Unfortunately the pen was not working because of the rain at Spa. Michael was not willing to sign again… Michael Schumacher was always the driver who stayed at the race track longer than anyone else.
In 1998 I met him during the GP of Monaco. The paddock in Monaco is completely fenced and everyone is able to stay at the fences without special passes. So Michael signed through the fence, feeling safe. But before I met him, I had to wait about 3 hours!
In Hockenheim 1999 Michael started to behave diffident. He began asking his bodyguard Gino to drive his private car (in most cases a Maserati) into the paddock. So Michael just had to leave the Ferrari motorhome and drove away without signing. From this year on it became more and more difficult to meet him. In the daytime he was always to busy and hectic, at night he stayed in meetings with his mechanics.
In the year 2000 Michael started to remember every face of the professional hunters. That means for example that he remembers in August that you already got an autograph in July. So from this time on I had to discuss with him for every signature. I have to mention positively that Michael was fair enough to sign one photo per fan, more than ever when I and the others were waiting till late at night for him. He also started saying: ”Hey buddy, you got so many signs the last years, what are you doing with them?” In 2001 Michael made a guest appearance at the Carting World Championship in his hometown Kerpen, near Cologne. There Michael was extremely focussed on carting so that he did not sign anything! This is a proof for his extreme engagement concerning to racing.
In 2002 I made my first vacation to Imola (GP of San Marino). My friend and I were the only autograph collectors in the paddock area. So Michael was very relaxed when he arrived at the race track early in the morning. We were lucky, because Michael had no admittance to drive his private Maserati into the paddock. He was forced to leave his car in the car park and because of this it was possible to get a really nice autograph. Moments like this were very rare! The GP of Europe in this year, which was held at the Nürburging, was very important for all autograph collectors who want Michael to sign large pictures. Michael started to ask every fan: “Who is the autograph for?” The collector had to say the name and every large picture was signed with a dedication. Only small pictures and portraits were signed normally. He wanted to stop the selling of his autographs by using this method.
In 2003, Michael arranged a charity soccer match between a team including actors and TV stars and one team including sport stars in Mannheim several days in front of the GP of Germany. There Michael was always singing a lot, because the fans paid a lot of money for the tickets and Michael wanted to give something back. When Michael was signing for more than 20 people, he renounced to write dedications. There was always a happy hunting!
Another exciting moment of 2003 was the IAA (international car exposition) in Frankfurt. Michael should launch the Fiat Panda and the new Maserati Quarto Porte there. I was waiting for him outside the hall at the parking area for VIP quests. But regretfully I was forced to leave this area two minutes before Michael arrived. Luckily I had a brilliant idea. One security woman was allowed to stay there, so I gave him 3 of my photographs and asked her to collect the autographs. Our deal was that she would keep one the signed photos. In the end, Michael signed all photographs for her and I was the only professional collector in Frankfurt who got his photos signed! During the celebrations inside the hall Michael refused to sign anything!
Spa-Francochamps 2004, Michael became world champion for the 7th time. So I my intention was to get a real world champion autograph shortly after the race. But this was very difficult. I met Michael about 10 times in the paddock, but he never signed anything. Quite the opposite he said: “I could be the champion for the 10th time, but you will get no autograph!” After a long hunting day I decided to wait for Michael until 10 o’clock in the evening. Ten minutes in front of my deadline he came out of the paddock restaurant truck and tried to escape in his Maserati. But me and my 4 friends were bagging for the autographs and embarrassed him to leave. So Michael signed one photograph for each of us. That’s it, the real world champion autographs which will stay in my collection for ever!
The beginning of the year 2005 was very negative for me concerning to Michael’s autographs. He thought that he signed enough photos for me in the past and was not willing to sign for me anymore. I only got him in Monaco through the fence, where he was not able to see me. In Hockenheim he just signed my picture, because he thought I were someone else. After signing and realizing it was me, he was a little bit angry. In Spa-Francorchamps happened something very interesting. Michael was signing some photographs for each fan instead of me. Then I asked him: ”Michael what’s your problem? You are signing for everyone, so come on!” He answered that he did not believe that I am a fan, because I’m always asking him for autographs. He assumed me only to sell his signs. Furthermore he did not believe my name for the dedication. So I had the good idea to show him my identity card. He started laughing and from this point on he treated me like a friend! I never had problems with him at the following events!
During the following F1 winter, where Michael tested a lot at Barcelona, Valencia and Jerez, it was easy to get his autographs for me. All the other hunters were having the same problems I had until Spa. Everytime I met him, I gave him my photograph for signing beside my identity card. This was our new running gag…
In 2006 Michael started to get interested in my hobby and asked me several things. For example he wanted to know, why I am always in the paddock area or why I sometimes have accreditations. I only answered: “Michael, this is just my expert knowledge…!” And he smiled…
It was a process of more than ten years to convince Michael that I am a good guy and to acquire his trust. Spa-Francorchamps 2005 was the turning point. In 2006, for example at Imola, he was always happy to meet me. The atmosphere between me (autograph collector) and him (F1 giant) changed completely and all the other hunters got very jealous.
I am very sad that Michael retired from Formula One. Collecting his autographs has always been the most exciting thing in Formula One. He was a very special driver, a tough signer, but ultimately a really good guy!