|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2012)|
Wilhelm "Willi" Friedrich Weber (born 11 March 1942 in Regensburg, Germany) is the manager of numerous German racing drivers including seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, his brother Ralf Schumacher (until November 2005), Nico Hülkenberg (until 2011) and Timo Scheider. He is also the franchise holder for A1 Team Germany.
Willi Weber made himself a name in the motorsport world for discovering and promoting talents like the Schumacher brothers and for being a shrewd negotiator. Besides taking care of his clients' contractual issues he also proved to be quite a talent in finding ways to make money for his clients with creative merchandising deals.
Before driver management
As a teenager Willi Weber discovered and trained his negotiating skills and made some extra money buying up worn military uniforms and selling those off to collectors. At the same time he was in an apprenticeship in hotel management in order to learn the business with the target to run his own gastronomic establishment. He succeeded as an entrepreneur with his businesses being based near Stuttgart, Germany, and became a wealthy man with franchises. As a motorsport fan he spent time and good part of his wealth by enjoying himself behind the wheel of race cars as gentleman driver. In 1983 engineer Klaus Trella talked Weber into a partnership and they founded their Formula 3 team WTS (Weber-Trella Stuttgart). Realising that he wasn't exactly a front-runner on the track, Weber made room for ambitious youngsters, and enjoyed his status as team owner. The first big success came in 1988 with talented Swabian driver Joachim Winkelhock who won the team's first German F3 Championship title.
Talent scout and manager
During a Formula Ford race at the Salzburgring in Austria later that year Willi, on the search for his next top driver as Winkelhock moved on to Formula One, he spotted a talented young man who was racing for the first time in that category and comfortably won the race. It was the teenage Michael Schumacher from Kerpen. Weber invited Schumacher to test his F3 car in Hockenheim and, from what he saw, was convinced this young man would go far. It was Weber's sole credit that Schumacher would be able to continue his career as his humble origins would not have allowed to come up with the funds for a season in the German F3 Championship. And, in his second season in the series, Schumacher duly won the title which propelled his career further. It was also thanks to connections of a close friend of Weber's to motorsport returnee Mercedes-Benz that Schumacher ended up in their Junior Team in Group C racing and later had the financial guarantees to back his Grand Prix debut in Spa in 1991 for Jordan Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher winning the Formula One World Championship in 1994 transformed Germany into a motor racing mad nation. The following was enormous and therefore the business opportunities arising meant a heavy workload. When the first ever German F1 World Champion successfully defended his title in 1995, Weber decided to focus all of his time on F1 and sold his F3 outfit.
Willi Weber has since been responsible, thanks to his shrewd negotiation skills, for Michael Schumacher turning into one of the highest earning sport stars ever. And, given his 15% commission for every deal he finalised for his clients, made him an even wealthier man. Schumacher won a further five titles in the 21st century.
On the day before Schumacher agreed to be a temporary replacement for Felipe Massa for Ferrari in 2009, Weber famously told the Daily Mail newspaper that he was "200 per cent sure" that Schumacher would not replace the Brazilian. Ironically, Schumacher cancelled the plan a couple of weeks later due to a neck injury.
In 1999 Weber, ever passionate about gastronomy, inaugurated his Restaurant Weber's Gourmet im Turm at the Fernsehturm Stuttgart but after a couple of years discontinued the project.