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Motor Racing

Schumacher puts foot down with his critics

Former champion furious over questioning of tactics used in pursuit of past titles

Michael Schumacher was yesterday forced to defend his reputation as he faced up to the least attractive aspect of his Formula One comeback.

Schumacher has never enjoyed his media duties, and in pondering whether to return he must have questioned whether he again wanted to face the intrusion. That is despite the fact he knew he was ready to return, mentally and physically, after more than three years away.

So it perhaps came as no surprise that on the day of his official presentation as a Mercedes GP driver, his past should be drawn into question. Despite his unprecedented success there remain stains on his character, such as his infamous collisions with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve as he fought for the world championship in 1994 and 1997 respectively. There was his victory in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when his then team-mate Rubens Barrichello was ordered to pull over to allow the now 41-year-old past. And, of course, there was the deliberate parking of his Ferrari at La Rascasse in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix as he tried to thwart his then title rival Fernando Alonso.

When asked whether his return was an opening to show he could win in the right way, Schumacher positively bristled with indignation. The German sarcastically replied: "Ninety-one victories, seven titles, you win only in a bad way. Absolutely. Yeah, you're right, I need to prove [myself] now."

When it was put to Schumacher that the initial question had referred to the manner in which he won, and not what he won, Schumacher caustically remarked: "Yeah, I know. I did win all this in the manner in which you are trying to ask questions."

In a more serious tone, he added: "Let's be sensible and think about the reality, and look forward to what we might all face, learn and enjoy together. That's what I'm looking for."

There is no doubting Schumacher's status in Formula One history, although in returning now, he has never faced a challenge like the one he will encounter. It is 11 years since there were four world champions on the grid as there will be this year in Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Alonso.

But back in 1999 when Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Hill and Villeneuve were all in the field, only the former two were in competitive machinery. With close friend Felipe Massa at Ferrari and young pretender Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull, even team-mate Nico Rosberg, Schumacher's battle for an eighth crown is an uphill one.

"Compared to the past when there was one team able to compete [McLaren with Ferrari], now there are two or three teams," Schumacher said. "Last year was probably an exception but it doesn't really matter. You are there to win. In the car you don't look at how old your opponent is or who it is, you look at how you can be better than whoever it is."