Motorsport: Schumacher puts boot down on critics
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 championships in 1994 and '97 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.
"Ninety-one victories, seven titles, you win only in a bad way. Absolutely. Yeah, you're right, I need to prove (myself) now," the German said.
When it was put to him 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 initial pair were in competitive machinery.
With close friend Felipe Massa at Ferrari and young pretender Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull, and with Nico Rosberg as his team-mate, 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."
Over 90pc of the questions were put to Schumacher and those aimed at Rosberg invariably concerned his views on partnering F1's most successful exponent -- the man who won all seven of his world titles as Ross Brawn's favoured driver, first at Benetton then at Ferrari.
"Of course I was a little bit doubtful at first regarding his relationship with Ross," Rosberg said, "but I have been assured we will have equal treatment."
Perhaps. It escaped no one's notice that Schumacher wasted little time switching his No 4 car number on the FIA's provisional entry list for Rosberg's No 3, apparently for reasons of superstition.
Most within the paddock believe it was an early sign of Schumacher asserting himself, and that Rosberg's compliance, despite knowing how that would be construed, was equally revelatory.
"A non-issue," Brawn said. "The only number they care about is No 1."
To get that, the Germans will have to prise it away from the team containing the last two world champions, McLaren. Frankly, the mouth waters at the prospect of this lot up against Button and Hamilton.
McLaren launch their challenger, the MP4-25, on Friday and Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche was even prepared to stoke the flames of nationalism by referring to Mercedes GP as a "German national team" in his address. As if this sport needed any more hype.
Meanwhile, teams have approved a further overhaul of F1's scoring system. The new system will see a greater differential between first and second place -- with further tweaks taking place lower down the order. The new points structure, from first place to 10th, is: 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1. (© Daily Telegraph, London)