Q. Will Schuey keep pace with younger rivals?
Saturday 13 March 2010
A. As Lewis Hamilton pointed out with a degree of awe in his voice, Michael is fit. There are no longer neck problems, but just how fit remains to be seen.
There is no reason why a 41-year-old should not be able to drive quickly, especially now that F1 races are no longer flat-out sprints between refuelling stops, but how well Schumacher recovers from each race could present problems. The 1978 world champion, Mario Andretti, who raced 230mph Indycars well into his fifties, said recently: "I didn't have any problem with that, but I found it harder to recover after races than I did in my twenties. Michael might find it a problem with the four back-to-back races this year."
Q. Nico Rosberg was faster than him on day one – why?
A. Nobody speaks too loudly about it, but the inside story at Mercedes is that Rosberg got the times out of the MGP 01 car quicker than Michael did, and that he was faster and more consistent during testing. The main reason for this seems to be the narrower Bridgestone front tyres. With a smaller contact patch and a more rearward weight bias with the larger fuel tanks, the new cars understeer. Michael hates that, and far prefers a pointy car with instant turn-in and never mind the resultant oversteer. Nico might be faster on more occasions as the season develops...
Q. Will Schumacher still be the psychological bully he was?
A. Schumacher insisted on taking the No 3 race number from Rosberg because psychologically he did not wish to be seen to be a higher number. Likewise, he has apparently insisted on having the pit lane garage closer to the top of the pecking order. And for reasons best known to him, journalists can only contact him via his personal assistant, rather than through the Mercedes press office. Insiders say he is already withholding some telemetry information from his team-mate. Whether his bully-boy driving tactics of old will intimidate today's hungry young lions remains to be seen, but it's unlikely.
Q. How will the other drivers react to his presence?
A. All of them agree that having Michael back is great for the sport, not just because he was the anti-hero of yore but because his achievements so far outweigh those of other drivers. He has two more world titles than Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five, and almost as many grand prix victories as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost put together. They all believe his notoriety will draw in the fans and make F1 popular again. But as far as being intimidated by his presence on the track, they all agree that he will be just another driver when they are out there racing.
Q. Has Formula One moved on and left him behind?
A. Schumacher won in an era of Formula One when, until Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso hit their stride from 2003 onwards, the only man who was really in his class after the death of Senna was Mika Hakkinen. Even Ferrari thought the Finn was quicker. But now there are a lot of very fast young men driving the cars, and while they respect his name, they aren't going to cut him much slack. He's an adaptable fellow, however, and his ability to work with Ross Brawn to extract the most from a car technically remains unimpaired by the passing years.
Q. Can he win an eighth world championship?
A. If the Mercedes is good enough to win races on a regular basis then there is no reason at all why Schumacher should not be able to mount a very serious world championship challenge. He is a supremely fast, experienced and intelligent driver who can get the best from his machinery. He rarely makes big mistakes, and above all knows how to win races – 40 more than his closest rival, Prost. Provided he can avoid the sort of reputation-staining falls from grace, such as Adelaide in 1994 when he took Damon Hill off; Jerez in 1997 when he collided with Jacques Villeneuve; or Monaco in 2006 when he deliberately blocked the track in qualifying.
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