David Tremayne: Old pro can win the title – even at 40
Thursday 24 December 2009
Three o'clock, Sunday 14 March, 2010. Michael Schumacher's Mercedes lines up fifth at Bahrain's Sakhir Circuit, behind the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. The seven-time world champion faces 308km of gruelling racing, in 31C ambient temperature. The whole world wants to know: can he still do it?
Four months ago they were asking the same question and Schumacher disappointed them, when his much-vaunted comeback as the injured Massa's temporary replacement at Ferrari faltered, because of neck muscle injuries sustained in a motorcycle racing accident.
Now Schumacher, 40, is adamant he will deliver. "The failed comeback gave me reason to reconsider my situation," he said. "I was surprised how fast and how strong I committed myself again. Apparently, my batteries recharged completely during the last three years. And I realised that my old motivation was back, full of fresh energy and great force."
While the speed has always been there, his endurance remains questionable. But the man himself says he is absolutely fit. "I realised in the summer how fast I achieved my former performance values. And ever since, I kept on exercising. My neck is absolutely free of complaints. I can now do the same neck workout as I did when I was still racing. This wasn't possible in the summer because only five months had passed since my accident."
Having known Schumacher all his F1 life, I would doubt neither his commitment nor self-assessment. He is as fit and focused as ever, and Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn believes he is as good as he was when he won 92 grands prix and seven crowns, even though Schumacher turns 41 next month.
"Michael is the best judge of what he can do," Brawn said. "I trust him explicitly and he told me he can do it. He has always been his own best critic, the man himself knows what he is capable of. I am very comfortable and confident and put my trust in him, and it won't be misplaced. I saw from his disappointment over the summer how much passion he still has for the sport."
Winning the title might be a stretch but he will win races – if the Mercedes is good enough.
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