Michael Schumacher doubted whether he had the quality to match rivals Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell when he entered the sport in 1991, the seven-time champion admitted in a press conference on the 20th anniversary of his Formula 1 debut.
The 42-year-old German, is now the most successful driver ever to have entered the sport with 91 victories, 154 podium finishes and 68 pole positions to his name. But Schumacher says that he was daunted by the prospect of going up against the giants of the era he entered the sport in when he made his debut for Jordan at Spa 20 years ago.
"...If you are not a Formula 1 driver, at least myself, I was doubtful whether my quality was good enough to compete with these guys," the Mercedes driver said on Thursday. "You see them as untouchables, especially in those moments where you had (Ayrton) Sennas, (Alain) Prosts, (Nigel) Mansells and so on. I didn't really think I could match.
"Getting the first experience, coming over here and driving the car, I sort of quickly picked up the confidence that it was possible and from there on we all know.
"At the end of the day, we are all humans – we all have limits and you drive within those and there is no reason why it is impossible to beat those guys in the past and neither these guys who are here right now. That's the good thing about Formula 1. It is always a challenge and it is always a motivating challenge that is great fun."
Schumacher revealed that he never imagined he would still be racing in Formula 1 so many years down the line: "Well it is an unusual situation and certainly not something to be expected from the beginning but proud to be here and glad. As I often call it, it's my living room and a very particular place where lots of things, great things and special things, have happened. It is obviously a perfect scenario to celebrate this moment."
Asked if he had any regrets or whether he would have done things differently had he been given the chance, Schumacher replied: "Certainly I guess in every person's career, you look at it and you think well, what has happened, you take a summary, you almost make an account and I have to say in my case, taking the 20 years, taking everything that I've been doing...certainly, going backward, I would do certain things differently.
"But then in life you have to make some mistakes in order to understand it is a mistake and to sort of set your guidelines and, all in all, I guess the vest that I'm wearing, that I'm wearing inside me, is pretty white, and I'm pretty happy about this. I don't have many regrets and overall, I certainly feel very excited and proud of what has happened."
World Champion Sebastian Vettel was 4-years old when Michael Schumacher qualified seventh on the grid for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix (RIGHT). The Red Bull driver said on Thursday that he first became aware of Schumacher by playing with toy cars in kindergarten.
"I remember the first time I went to Hockenheim with my father to see free practice," he said. "We went all the way down to the first chicane. It was raining like crazy and Michael had this yellow Benetton at the time.
"To see a Formula 1 car and then to see Michael passing...he was probably just on an install lap, nothing spectacular but it was really very special. Unfortunately, nobody else went out because it was raining so hard.
"There was only a couple of cars but that was the first time that I remember. Obviously, after that there were a lot of races...when I was go-karting, Michael was sort of all the kids' hero.
"When we had this race in Kerpen at the end of the season, he handed over the trophies and it was very special to see him, to meet him, to shake his hand and to get our trophies presented by him," added Vettel. "Still there are some pictures from that time and to imagine now, to know what happened in the past and to see today that we are racing against each other in Formula 1 is quite crazy.
"Obviously, I have a lot of respect. It's very special to me. As I said, he was the hero of my childhood. I can't give you too much credit now, but I think he's an OK driver."