Former Mercedes F1 boss Norbert Haug has revealed to holding secret negotiations between Michael Schumacher and McLaren in the late 1990s.
Schumacher, who at the time was a two-time world champion, and Ferrari forged an era-defining rivalry with McLaren and Mika Hakkinen, with the two drivers sharing seven successive titles between 1998 and 2004.
Haug, whose Mercedes operation supported McLaren at the time, has explained how close the Woking-based team came to poaching a driver who went on to win five of his seven championships with Ferrari.
"I knew Michael from when he was a Formula Koenig driver, F3 driver, then he came to Mercedes before I was there, already as a junior, then he was in Group C," said Haug in the Beyond the Grid podcast.
"I came at the end of '91 and he had a full season of sportscars. We won the last race of the season at Autopolis - Karl Wendlinger and Michael Schumacher.
"In '91, we had already helped Michael go to Jordan and then '92 it was Benetton and he was world champion, then he went to Ferrari.
"It took him five years to win the championship in the year 2000 and we were competitors but always, next to the race track in the paddock, we always had a good relationship.
"We always, or I had a joke that someday we need to do it together at some time. There were some secret negotiations in 1998 but it never came together back then."
Mercedes did lure Schumacher out of retirement for an unsuccessful three-year spell from 2010-2012 when the German manufacturer returned to F1 as a constructor in its own right.
Haug added: "At the end of the period, the last three years, we were together and it is an absolute shame for his skiing accident because Michael would have been a great ambassador for the sport. He is a great manager as well."
McLaren was "attractive" for any driver
Hakkinen's championship win in 1998 dawned a new era of F1 car with slimmer, more agile machinery and ended a run of six years of Williams and Benetton titles.
With Adrian Newey at the heart of the double-championship winning push at McLaren, Haug believes the team would have caught the eyes of any driver, even Schumacher.
"It could, in theory, it could have happened but it did not come together," added Haug.
"It is what it is but it is not something that was completely in protocol. We were really good in '98.
"The new formula, Adrian Newey car was attractive for any driver and Michael could have won the championship earlier on, we know that.
"He could have won '99 because of his accident and we could have won 2000 without the failures or whatever. It was a great period of time and it was a very intense fight best described by the 2000 race in Spa with the two guys.
"I think if you asked them which driver you would rate the highest. I think they both mentioned the other guy."
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