Within the symbolic setting of Meilenwerk, a former railway freight station in Dusseldorf, Germany, reconverted into an exhibition facility for classic cars, Audemars Piguet CEO Philippe Merk officially welcomed racing legend Michael Schumacher into the AP family. The German driver just became the new icon for the luxury watch brand. An authentic living legend with his seven world championship titles, Schumacher holds the most prestigious records in motor racing. His 68 pole positions, 91 victories and 154 podium finishes on all the world’s major tracks make him the greatest racing driver of all time. After his return to competition in 2010, he competes in the 18th world championship in his career next year.
Schumacher caught the racing bug early on in life. His father Rolf worked on the go-kart track in Kerpen and his mother Elisabeth ran the brasserie.“Schumi,” as his fans call him, hit the track on his own, competing in his first race at age 4. His very first press clipping dating from 1973 refers to him as “small but fast.” In 1983, he earned his German go-kart racing license and the adventure began. After winning the German junior championship in 1984 and 1985, he came in third in the European go-kart championships in 1986, and then won both the German and European championship titles in 1987.
In 1988, he made his debut in single-seater racing, competing with the Eufra team in the Formula Ford 1600 championship. At the same time, he took part in the German Formula König circuit, winning nine out of 10 races. That same year, Schumacher had a chance to test drive a Formula 3 car for the WTS team, was runner-up in the German championship and won the title in 1990 with five wins to his credit. On Aug. 20, 1991, the door of the supreme motor-racing category swung open to admit the champion, who went on to an unbroken string of successes until the end of 2006, when he decided to quit.
After a three-year absence, his fierce determination drove the seven-time champion to resume competition and to vie once again with a field of sharp young contenders. On Dec. 23, 2009, Schumacher announced his return to the forefront at the wheel of the Mercedes GP Petronas Formula One Team alongside Ross Brawn with whom he had gained his seven world championship titles. After a tough start to the season, Schumacher and his team finished with respectable results that herald a promising 2011 season.
All drivers share a determination to beat time because, as Schumacher points out, “Two minutes are an eternity for those of us who are accustomed to fighting for tenths of a second.” He is fascinated by watchmaking and an acknowledged connoisseur who has been collecting timepieces for a number of years. “My friend Jean Todt introduced me to fine mechanical watches from Audemars Piguet, which I like to compare with racing cars because of their numerous common denominators including high-tech materials, cutting-edge R&D developments, and optimized mechanical performance. I admire the incredible work of the teams in Le Brassus and Le Locle who give shape to magnificent watches featuring ingenious technology and daring designs, yet without ever losing sight of horological traditions.”
Above and beyond a passion for watchmaking craftsmanship and expertise, Audemars Piguet and Schumacher also uphold the same values — a commitment to charity work and to supporting major endeavors. In 1992, Audemars Piguet created a foundation dedicated to preserving forest areas around the world, as well as to raising awareness among upcoming generations regarding the importance of their conservation, and consistently donates part of the proceeds from its sales to funding various environmental projects.
Schumacher also supports a number of associations. He has his own foundation through which he has been able to provide aid to victims of the floods in East Germany or the Tsunami. In 1996, he became a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Education of Children in Need. Strongly involved in his mission, he has funded and organized a number of events for underprivileged children. As a benefactor of the ICM Brain and Spinal Cord institute for several years now, he uses his image to benefit this internationally reputed research center. “Those who are privileged in life owe it to themselves to help those who are less fortunate, and particularly those who suffer.” In fact, all his participations at the Race of Champions are for the benefit of ICM and he proudly wears the logo on his racing suit. This particular commitment is shared by Audemars Piguet which, at the 2009 Gstaad Classic, auctioned watch N°1 of the limited series specially created for this occasion and donated the entire proceeds from this sale to ICM.
For Audemars Piguet, the world of motor sports is well-known territory. The brand has been involved for several years in historical car rallies such as the National Classic Tour in Belgium, the Gstaad Classic in Switzerland and the Tour Auto in France. The watch manufacturer’s ambassadors also include three other racing drivers: Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli and Sébastien Buemi.
Thrilled to reinforce the Audemars Piguet presence in the motorsports world, CEO Philippe Merk emphasized the qualities of this exceptionally popular and talented athlete. “Michael Schumacher is not only the greatest racing driver of all time, he is also a big-hearted, discreet and altruistic individual who dedicates his reputation to great causes. An iconic figure, he embodies strength, determination, as well as a passion for challenges and for competition. It is with a blend of elegance and humility that he will wear our Royal Oak Offshore, the undisputed reference model in the field of prestige sports.”