Motorsport: Bullish schumacher talks up world title chances
A blast of good, old-fashioned 'Schumi-fever' swept through the Shanghai paddock yesterday. Hundreds of well-wishers braved the unseasonably cold weather to claim an autograph, or merely catch a glimpse of the comeback king.
One woman, camped determinedly outside the Mercedes garage with a banner bearing the legend 'YOU BACK, WE BACK,' was found not to have the correct pass and was dragged away by security in floods of tears just at the point the great man emerged. That really set her off.
Clearly Schumacher, who claimed the last of his 91 race victories at this circuit back in 2006, still commands the respect of his very own Red Army, or at least of those stragglers who remember him for what he was; a remorseless race-winner with Ferrari.
The question is, will Schumacher ever again taste the victory champagne? Or are his powers, at 41, gone forever?
A quick glance at the early season leaderboard makes uncomfortable reading for the seven-time champion. Three races in, Schumacher has nine points, 30 fewer than Ferrari's championship leader Felipe Massa.
More worrying is the fact that he has been out-qualified and out-scored in every race thus far by his own team-mate, Nico Rosberg.
They say the only reliable yardstick for a driver is his team-mate, and Rosberg has undoubtedly held the upper hand so far, but there were signs in Malaysia a fortnight ago that Schumacher was beginning to get to grips with his compatriot.
The man himself was bullish yesterday, insisting not only that he can be a race winner again, but that the title is still feasible this year if Mercedes can up their game.
"In terms of results, they were not as great as some people expected, and even myself I would have loved to have better results, but the competition is high," he said. "It is natural to not have the same positive feedback in the media, but I know what I have been doing, and I have no reason to be disappointed."
The cynics rolled their eyes. What he doesn't have any more, they said, is a willing stooge in Rubens Barrichello and team orders to keep him on top. Both valid points.
The flipside is it could be even worse than we imagine. Even if Schumacher overhauls Rosberg this weekend, it may prove nothing. Rosberg himself is unproven in most pundits' eyes.
The point is, no one yet knows, although someone with a better idea than most is Jenson Button, who has presumably pumped his Brawn team-mates for information.
"I don't think we have seen the best from Michael yet," Button said. "Everyone is saying (his) results have not been great. They will be. He has not lost his performance. He will be strong this season, you watch." (© Daily Telegraph, London)