Mercedes have hailed Michael Schumacher as one of the “founding fathers” of their recent success.
Lewis Hamilton last year celebrated his fifth world championship, and his fourth racing for the Silver Arrows, and the team wrapped up their fifth consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ title double.
Schumacher was 50 yesterday, and the sporting world joined forces in paying tribute to the driver not seen in public since his skiing accident five years ago.
The German, a winner of a record seven Formula One championships, came out of retirement in 2010 for a three-season spell with Mercedes, before he was eventually replaced by Hamilton.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: “Michael is one of the founding fathers of the success we have had in the last five years. There is no other driver like him and his vast experience contributed tremendously in the development of our team.
“He played a crucial role when we rejoined F1 and was one of the people who laid the foundation for our future success. We’re extremely grateful for everything he did for us.”
Hamilton is now the closest driver to matching Schumacher’s records. The Briton is two championships and 18 race victories shy of the German’s hauls.
“Michael has had a tremendous impact on Formula One,” added Wolff. “Not only did he set an incredible record – a record that is yet to be beaten – but he also shaped and changed the sport forever.”
Schumacher’s medical condition has been held a closely-guarded secret since he fell and hit his head while skiing on the French Alps in December, 2013.
Hamilton himself added: “Wishing you a happy birthday, Michael. Fifty years of life and a legacy that will last forever.
“What an honour it is to say that I have raced with you. You’ve always been a true inspiration to me and the entire world. Keep fighting, Champ
Schumacher’s wife Corinna posted a rare update on his health ahead of his landmark birthday, ensuring that the family are doing everything humanly possible to help him.
Yesterday, Schumacher’s daughter Gina also published a short message to her Instagram page, writing: “Happy Birthday to the best Dad”, accompanied by three pictures, including one of her father ahead of his first F1 race for Jordan in 1991.
The world of sport also sent messages of support to Schumacheryesterday. #KeepFightingMichael was trending on social media around the world.
The Ferrari F1 team, where Schumacher earned five titles in ten seasons, tweeted: “Our champ turns 50 today. We’re all with you Michael #KeepFighting.”
F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg shared a photo of when he met Schumacher as a young man, writing “Happy 50th birthday, Goat!”, a reference to a popular acronym for “greatest of all time”.
“Stay strong and keep fighting!!” he added.
Rival F1 teams, such as Renault, McLaren and Mercedes, as well as the official accounts for race tracks including Brands Hatch and the Nurburgring, also wished Schumacher well.
The Mercedes team, where Schumacher finished his career, wrote on Twitter: “50 years ago, a star was born. A star who shaped and changed @F1 forever. Who broke records, redefined excellence and helped lay the foundations for our future success.
“We’d like to send our very best wishes to Michael @Schumacher on his 50th birthday. #KeepFighting #Michael50.”
Seb Morris, the British 2017 GT Champion, said on Twitter: “Happy birthday @schumacher . Not a day goes by where I don’t think about you and your progress. #KeepFightingMichael.”
Tributes also extended beyond motor sport.
The German national football team posted a tribute on Twitter wishing Schumacher a happy birthday alongside a picture of the driver visiting his countrymen in training.
In a tweet on the anniversary of the accident, former Arsenal and Germany striker Lukas Podolski simply posted the praying and strong arm emojis to Twitter alongside the hashtag #KeepFightingMichael.
And the official account for Australian football club South Melbourne FC posted a picture of Schumacher in the club kit after a training session.
“Wishing @F1 legend and friend of the club Michael Schumacher a Happy 50th Birthday for today,” read the caption.
Schumacher’s family led the tributes with the release of a “virtual museum” in the form of an app “to remember and celebrate his victories, his records and his jubilation”.
Son Mick, who followed his father into motorsport, promoted the app and encouraged his Twitter followers to “have fun with it”.
The family of the German-born star, often called the greatest driver of all time, asked for continued privacy in a rare statement on Instagram.
“Please understand if we are following Michael’s wishes and keeping such a sensitive subject as health, as it has always been, in privacy,” it read. “We say thank you very much for your friendship and wish you a healthy and happy year 2019.”