Written by Jukka Mildh, YLE Urheilu's reporter.
SCHUMI - MORE CLEVER THAN PEOPLE THINK
The race is a chapter of it's own but the attention in Barcelona will be focused on Michael Schumacher. As a matter of fact, has there been or will there be any race where he wouldn't be followed through a magnifying glass? His return can't have been easy in any way. Especially when Mercedes hasn't been of the same caliber it was last season. But you shouldn't underestimate Schumi.
A German track a few years ago.
There's not much activity on the track in the middle of the week. A few motorbikes are testing. Several empty garages. A station wagon Audi pulling a cart curves on the track. The car and the cart vanishes inside one garage and doors are closed.
For a moment nothing happens but then the door on the track-side opens and a motorbike of tough caliber takes off. A biker wearing a black racing outfit and white helmet rides it. After a couple laps the driver curves back to the pit, vanishes into the garage and the door is closed.
The same routine goes on all day long. And also during several other days. Nobody pays attention to anything special.
But if the few people on the track would have realised that the driver is Michael Schumacher then hell would be loose. At least in motorsport circles. And otherwise too.
Because it was Michael Schumacher.
From what I understand his interest for track motorcycling became so strong that in the end the F1-champion's garage was almost equipped as a competing garage. And not just equipment for the German championship-serie where Schumi raced a few races. This equipment was meant for something completely different....
So many things happen in the F1-world that you don't get to read from newspapers. Schumi isn't telling everyone how he spends his time and with whom.
Schumi's F1-comeback and his chances to succeed should also be examined from this point of view.
He should under no circumstances be underestimated.
Many think that Schumi has lost his edge. ”He has been gone too long”. ”Schumi won't be able to put up to younger drivers” the critics tell. Without doubt the beginning of the season looked stiff but I don't understand why they in the first place believed that the German could do a 'I came, saw and won' conquer. The battle for the victory and the top positions is nowadays so tough that you can't just come there with your jacket open and start winning.
And especially this year the driver-material in F1 is extremely tough and even.
I have followed Schumacher's doings with interest myself too but I'm still not ready to lynch him. He is a tough level professional who works in a systematic way with patience. I'm assured that Ross Brawn didn't get an immediate answer to his suggestion. Schumacher most definitely evaluated the good and the bad sides very carefully just like he evaluates all the things and performances he goes to. And when he had more plus than minus the Champion was ready for the battle. Even if it was a risk. And aware of the fact that now he really doesn't get off easily.
The most glorious way for a sportsman is to leave the battle-fields as a winner. The bashers think that Schumacher is about to lose his reputation. But how can you take away the merits of seven championships? You can't. They are written in stone.
Schumi has approached his comeback in an intelligent manner. He obviously makes open co-work with his team mate Nico Rosberg. When it comes to developing the car Schumi is at least as much a receiver than he is a contributor. It would be stupid not to share your own thoughts when the other one is hundreds of steps ahead of you. The cars have changed so much between 2006 and 2010 that if you want to speed your adjustment you have to listen to your team mate. Even if he is 20 years younger than you are. And extremely fast.
And Schumacher can't have fallen off the wagon completely even though he hasn't raced for three seasons. He has been on Ferrari's payroll and present in most of the races during those years. He has kept himself well up-to-date when it comes to different processes and changes in teams along the road. And also when it comes to car development.
Of course it's obvious that driving and following driving are two completely different things but I'm sure it was easy for him to get in touch again when he drove Mercedes for the first time after the break.
Meaning slow and steady wins the race.
Both drivers in teams should make as equal work as possible. Reputation and success are a matter of it's own but a remarkable share of the team's budget comes from the results, because based upon them F~0~M, lead by Bernie Eccleston, gives out money.
From this point of view one might assume that Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug demand performances from Schumi. Yet they both knew what they were getting into. Schumi's marketing value is huge for Mercedes-Benz. Even when he doesn't win.
His value might go down if there are no results but after that you will see Rosberg in the ads. The back-up plan is failsafe. And there's also a small sophisticated detail. Schumacher comes from a district where people are, as far as I know, called hicks in Finnish. Rosberg again is a citizen of the world and could for this reason better be suited as the number one mannequin in the future.
F1 will go back to normal business in Barcelona. They have their own premises, trucks and more personnel. And above everything updated cars. They managed to get through the logistic demands that the ash clouds caused and the new parts made in the factory - at least in the top teams - have been put in the cars more or less according to the schedule.
The weather looks to be rainy during the weekend so Red Bull has to improve it's action from the last race and drastically. I think they learned from China and have put their lines in order.
So the top cars get a lot of new parts which will improve their performance ability 0,2 seconds per lap at best. McLaren and Ferrari plus Red Bull are safely in the development-ride. The interest will focus on Mercedes. And not just because of Schumacher. Nico Rosberg has been on the podium twice and he is after Jenson Button 2nd in the championship-serie but as a car Mercedes hasn't been shining when compared to other top cars. Performances in qualification have been okay but in the race the car has been helplessly too slow.
Ross Brawn confessed this designing mistake and they found the reason from for example more narrow tyres and the weight distribution. The latter is a relevant thing when thinking of the tyre grip and the way they are worn. Now the car has been changed so that it's better for this part. And, surprise surprise, it should also benefit Schumacher.
But Nico has also suffered of the same problems. Therefore changing the car doesn't only benefit Schumi. If they get the car setup more oversteering due to the changes (meaning that the rear slightly takes off in the corners) it will make the situation easier for Schumi. Because the old dog - I mean fox - has difficulties in changing the driving style he is used to.
Now it would be time for Mercedes to strike.
And I believe they will do so too.
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