F1: Schumacher has lost fear factor
Published 26/03/2010 | 05:00
The bronzed and sculpted torso clearly lurking beneath the tight white T-shirt and shorts confirmed that, at 41, Michael Schumacher is still in great shape.
It was the words coming out of the seven-time world champion's mouth here yesterday which suggested not everything about the returning legend is as firm as it once was. His conviction, for one thing.
Let's be honest, would the man who was so competitive that he famously 'parked' his car at Monaco's Rascasse corner during his farewell season in 2006, rather than allow a rival a final qualifying lap, really say the following? "I am mainly here for the enjoyment, but at the same time I am not here to be last."
Come again? This is the same Schumacher whose ruthless approach in title-deciding races saw him collide with Damon Hill in 1994 and then attempt to crash into Jacques Villeneuve in 1997?
Perhaps Ferrari were right when they joked in pre-season that it must be a doppelganger at Mercedes rather than the merciless machine who bled red during 13 seasons at Maranello, picking up five consecutive world titles between 2000 and 2004.
Yet suddenly it is unclear in everyone's minds just what Schumacher can expect from his return to the sport he once owned.
His sixth-place finish in Bahrain a fortnight ago, where he was outpaced by his young team-mate, Nico Rosberg, in every session of the weekend, raised eyebrows within the F1 fraternity, but was put down to teething troubles.
Crucially, though, it appears now that the man himself is less sure what he is capable of. At least that is how it looked yesterday. Trying to read Schumacher is not always easy.
Asked what he thought an achievable target might be this year, he winked at his interviewer as if to say 'better luck next time' before answering: "Why do you want to fix me on something? So that you can come back to me at the end and say you didn't do it? Keep trying but I don't go for it.
"I will give my own judgment in the time I want.
"I wasn't dreaming of coming here and kicking everyone else's ass and neither was I kicked. Nico is a very good and fast driver, so I don't think I need to be ashamed of where I was in Bahrain. I'm not a magician. I'm human."
That is the problem. The Schumacher of old was inhuman. He had a fear factor about him.
Now his peers are lining up to take pot shots at a man whose refusal to rejoin the Grand Prix Drivers' Association -- allegedly because it would not waive his signing-on fee -- has ruffled a few feathers.
Mark Webber has said he thinks the German will find it "tough" this year, while Rubens Barrichello, his old stooge at Ferrari, had this to say: "I think he can do well this year, but when he left, he was winning all the time.
"For me, he has more to lose than gain. If he doesn't care about that and he's doing it for pure pleasure, then he's fine." Hardly a vote of confidence.
You write Schumacher off at your peril. Nobody wins 91 grands prix without being exceptionally gifted. And he was right about one thing. It is unfair to expect him to be on the pace right away, especially in a car that is not yet of the calibre of its rivals.
You can judge him only against his team-mate. If Rosberg comes out on top once again this weekend, the pressure on Schumacher will really start to ratchet up. He knows it, as do his peers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)