F1

Schumacher at full throttle

You listen to Michael Schumacher, you continually hear words such as “motivated” and “driven”.

At the age of 41, it would be a risk for Schumacher to be any other way because Formula One is not a sport in which you can be half-hearted, certainly not after spending three years in retirement.

But then they are also words that define Schumacher, a driver so meticulous in his approach in and out of the car that nothing is left to chance.

Of course, there were times during Schumacher’s earlier career when such desire would cloud his methodical reasoning and judgment, when his drive tipped him over the edge.

Sadly, that is Schumacher’s dark side, so we can only hope his time away playing happy families, having fun on bikes and karts, viewing proceedings from the pit wall as an advisor to Ferrari, has mellowed that part of him, leaving behind the courageous competitor.

Certainly Ross Brawn is delighted to be reunited with Schumacher, the Mercedes GP team principal previously playing such a distinct role in creating the legend who has won seven world titles and 91 grands prix.

Their early bond was formed at Benetton where Schumacher won his first two championships in 1994 and 1995, and cemented at Ferrari where Brawn was the master tactician behind the five titles that followed.

No one understands Schumacher – his psyche, his methods – better than Brawn, and it would appear time has far from withered the German’s senses as to what he requires and what is required to win again.

Assessing Schumacher’s strengths, in comparison to the drivers he guided to last year’s crown in Jenson Button, and his team-mate Rubens Barrichello, the differences are clear.

Brawn’s comments are not meant as a slight against the 30-year-old Englishman or veteran Brazilian, but more to emphasise what marks Schumacher out against his peers.

After the first day of testing together in Valencia, Brawn noted: “What came through was Michael’s precision about what’s going on in the car, what he wants and what he feels is needed.

“He has great clarity of reasoning in what he does, what he feels and what he thinks should be the direction we take or changes to come.

“That’s always been notable about Michael in his career, and that’s probably the most noticeable difference.

“Both Rubens and Jenson gave very good information on the car, and that was never a problem.

“It’s just that Michael is more precise in his opinions as to what is happening, which is nice to work with again.

“It was a bit like the old days.”

There is no doubt the combination of Schumacher and Brawn is one that will be fully respected by all the other drivers and teams.

But whether the old days return to their fullest and include all the pomp and glory of another championship is a different matter.

Mercedes acquired a 45.1% stake in last year’s title winners after a takeover of Brawn at the end of the season, with Aabar, an Abu Dhabi investment company, taking 30%.

The return of the German manufacturing giant as a fully-fledged team for the first time since 1955 is a welcome tonic for the sport, but that by no means is a guarantee of continued success.

Schumacher is also adamant no lingering doubts remain over a neck injury sustained in a bike accident a year ago that wrecked the comeback dream with Ferrari last August.

His personal doctor, Johannes Peil, was on hand at that first test to oversee matters, but such were the assurances from Schumacher, his services were dispensed with for the three tests that followed.

If he is as fit as he asserts, and he maintains his passion burns as bright as ever, the only questions that remain are whether he is as talented as in the past. Whether, at 41, he still has the speed.

As any driver will tell you, testing is one thing, qualifying and a grand prix are another, and the truth will emerge on March 13 and 14 when the curtain raises on the new season in Bahrain.

Schumacher is adamant he has “nothing to prove to anyone about my age”, that instead it is a matter of “proving to myself that I am obviously still able”.

If everything falls into place, make no bones about it, Schumacher will be a force to be reckoned with again, so do not rule out the prospect of a record-extending eighth title, because he isn’t.

“I feel fresh, good, motivated, and as Ross and I know each other so well, it has made things very easy,” said Schumacher.

“It’s actually been much easier than I anticipated. I thought I would need a bit more time.

“Assessing everything, I think we have everything you need to be able to fight for the championship.

“With Ross’ experience, with what the team did last year, having Mercedes as a team in itself with the experience, know-how and quality they possess, as well as myself, then, I’m sorry, there’s only one target.”

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