MICHAEL Schumacher’s ex-team-mate Johnny Herbert has opened up about the ailing F1 star’s condition after a creepy AI-generated “interview with the legend” sparked outrage around the world.
German magazine Die Aktuell has been criticized for its recent front page, which claimed to contain the 54-year-old’s “first exclusive interview” since his horror skiing accident nearly a decade ago
It promises not “half sentences from friends” but “the incredible interview” with the F1 star, including “redemptive answers to the most burning questions the whole world has been asking for so long”.
But only at the end of the article does it become clear that the article was actually generated by an AI chatbot.
The article sparked an angry reaction from Schumacher’s family, as a spokesman for Reuters news agency confirmed they were taking legal action against its publication.
Now, for the first time since the AI chat, former F1 team-mate and TV pundit Johnny Herbert has spoken out, branding the German magazine’s actions “appalling”.
Schumacher, who won seven world championships during his glittering career, regularly raced with the British racer and the two were team-mates for the now-defunct Benetton between 1994 and 1995.
Speaking to Ice 36, Johnny said: “The interview with the German magazine was horrific. This is the modern crazy world of AI and how dangerous it can be.
“It was a prime example of a completely wrong operation.”
He also spoke about the condition of the F1 star following his skiing accident in the French Alps in December 2013 and said he understood the world’s “fascination” with the racing legend.
Schumacher has not been seen in public since his accident and his family has carefully maintained his privacy at his home in Switzerland.
Johnny added, “I can understand the fascination with Michael because it’s a story that doesn’t end yet.
“Michael has an endless fascination. I have no contact with my family. Everything is kept very strict.”
The former F1 driver also shed light on his relationship with the “reckless” German, who went on to drive for Ferrari and Mercedes.
He said: “We didn’t always agree. He was ruthless. But that’s why he achieved what he achieved.
“He had a way of approaching his races. He was fortunate to have the right people around him in Flavio Briatore, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne and he brought those people to Ferrari.
“I remember Ross saying Michael was the best driver he’s ever worked with. Because of this, they would do anything for him. And I mean everything.
“Because of that, Michael gets that motivation, they get the motivation back because he gives it back, and together they deliver. Then it becomes a success cycle.”
Johnny says he still remembers Michael’s “outstanding performance in Ferrari” on a particularly wet race day in Spain.
He said: “I still remember his outstanding performance in the Ferrari in the rain at Barcelona in 1996. It was his first win for Ferrari.
“It was an amazing ride in torrential rain and why it was called ‘rainmaster’ afterward, the Rainmaster. It was an incredible ride.
“Yes, he had a darker side too, but at the end of the day you can’t deny anything he’s done.”
FURY OF THE MAGAZINE
The German magazine’s “Weltexclusive” saw the world champion “open up” his life after suffering a catastrophic brain injury.
In the piece, which the magazine claims “sounded deceptively real,” Schuey reportedly says, “My life has completely changed since then [the accident]. It was a horrible time for my wife, my children and the whole family.”
The article goes on to say: “I was so badly injured that I was in a kind of artificial coma for months because my body wouldn’t have coped with it otherwise.”
In the spooky play, the AI chatbot even touches on the racer’s alleged recovery.
When asked how he feels today, the AI says, “Much better than years ago. With the help of my team, I can even stand on my own again and even walk a few steps slowly.”
“My family and children have been a blessing to me and without them I would not have been in business.
“Of course they are very sad about how everything went, but unfortunately that’s how life is and I just have to accept that sometimes things go badly.
“They support me and stand firmly by my side.”
Many others have called the play tasteless and insensitive.
German blogger Boris Rosencrantz, who writes for the news site Ubermedien, struck at the Funke media group that owns Die Aktuell.
He wrote: “The Funke Mediengruppe actually wants the rubbish it dumps into the world to be understood as a journalistic product.
“The current one delivers ‘exciting and, above all, serious reports about stars, VIPs and aristocracy,'” writes the publisher.
“But how you type something like that on a website without it immediately seeing red is unclear.”
It’s not the first time that Die Aktuell has come into conflict with the Schumachers.
In 2014, the magazine posted a photo of Michael and his wife Corinna on its cover with the caption “Awake.”
But the article was actually about other people who have come out of coma in the past.
The following year, the magazine ran a cover saying Corinna had a “new love,” only for the play to actually be about the couple’s daughter, Gina.
The current later won a legal battle against the Schumachers over the play.