The master returns - Q&A with Michael Schumacher
Now it's official: Michael Schumacher will compete again in F1 racing after a contract was sealed with the newly-formed Mercedes team. Schumacher has fancied the idea of a comeback ever since replacing the injured Felipe Massa became a possibility. However, had it not been for the formation of the Ross Brawn-led Mercedes squad, he would have never thought a full-time return more than a pipe dream…
Q: Michael, welcome back to Formula One. Your signature on the contract has hardly dried - can you say something about the content of your contract?
Michael Schumacher: Yep, the deal was done only hours ago. Regarding the driving, the time frame is three years. There was never any intention to do a one-off. There will be an option after that to be brand ambassador for Mercedes, which would make sense in a way.
Q: So you are really planning to race again for three years?
Q: How did those last few weeks of negotiations feel? Was there a certain level of excitement or has F1 hardened you and it was just one of those things?
MS: Hardened? Not at all. This morning when I was talking to my new race engineer I was feeling like a 12- year old boy who is jumping from excitement at the prospect of a new toy. I am so excited - I cannot repeat it often enough. True, I will be 41 years old, but the combination of Ross and Mercedes is something that I believe in - and I believe in myself as well. There was never a moment of doubt.
Q: What was your motivation to come back?
MS: Well, that was pretty straightforward. At the end of November I got a call from Ross concerning an option to go racing again. Having got that call from him and the information that Mercedes will be involved, that did it. I kind of never left the race track up to 2006, so I was pretty tired back then, with a lack of motivation and energy. Three years’ absence has reloaded my batteries and having played around with motor bikes, go-karts and all kind of things I now feel ready again for some serious stuff.
Q: Planning to race for three years, you must be pretty sure that your neck problem has vanished…
MS: Sure, that was the crucial question for me as it had not worked out in the summer. Before I gave my final okay I worked out, to be sure for myself - and now I know that the neck is no longer as issue. Unfortunately I was not ready in the summer when I tried to step in for Felipe as it was too close to the accident.
Q: Aged 40, do you still have that ferocious will to win that was so predominant in you before, to go fighting again wheel-to-wheel with the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton?
MS: I am absolutely sure. After that bike accident, when I got into a kart for the first time I immediately had the pace again. Sure, that’s a small proof and I have to demonstrate it again in a real car. And if that means to take it wheel-to-wheel with those guys, then that’s exciting. I am very much looking forward to it. When you take all the opinions from the outside, then everybody seems to be very convinced that I still have what it takes.
Q: You have obviously switched colours: how difficult was it to leave Ferrari and come back with Mercedes?
MS: That, sure, was not an easy step, honestly. I have a lot of friends at Ferrari and I have fantastic memories from my time with them. But (Ferrari chairman) Luca di Montezemolo helped easing the situation a lot in a conversation that I had with him. He knew that I was very disappointed in the summer when my condition did not allow me to finish the season for Ferrari, and that Ferrari - due to long term commitments - were not in a position to offer me more. Probably the only reason for my return now is because old friends have asked me: Ross, together with Mercedes, to give back something to Mercedes for their support in my early days.
Q: Was the possibility of standing in for Felipe the spark that triggered your ambition to come back, or had that ambition been lingering already for quite some time?
MS: You could say it was that replacement scenario that triggered everything.
Q: You have a great reputation. Aren’t you scared of putting all that on the line? People will always judge you by what you’ve done before…
MS: I hope that people will judge me on what I’ve done before. And look at the situation - I’m with a team that has won both championships this year, so their only route can be to defend these two titles. Yes, there will be strong competition - I predict very tight again, as we have seen this season - and I am absolutely thrilled to be back in it.
Q: Did you speak with your family before you decided to come back?
MS: Obviously. Making such a step requires that you sort out your personal situation first. There was no doubt in the family that I should do it. My wife has always been keen to see me happy and when I asked her opinion and she saw my eyes - the sparkle - she didn’t argue against it for one second. She said ‘go and have fun’.
Q: Were you unhappy in those three years of not driving?
MS: As I’ve explained earlier, at the end of the 2006 season I’d lost motivation and energy, so it was a somewhat logical step to quit. At that point I was pretty sure that this was it, as I could have never imagined returning. In those last three years I’ve played around in many areas. Such a team combination as the one we now have was beyond imagination, and when it became reality and I was asked to join I was absolutely thrilled. Why not?
Q: There was a quick survey this morning in Germany when the news broke and 70 percent of the participants are sure that you will fight again for the championship. Do you share that view?
MS: Let’s hope they are right.
Q: Do you expect the competition to be tougher than it was some years ago?
MS: Probably tighter, yes. Tougher? No, why? There have always been top drivers around - that will never change. And I see chances for me to fit into that mould again. That’s why I am coming back.
Q: Have you been in a simulator in the last few weeks since you started considering your return and do you expect the cars to be very different from where you left them in 2006?
MS: I have not been in a simulator other than my personal one. Yes, the cars will be slightly different, but I’ve driven so many cars with different characteristics over the years. That is something that I see as the strong part of myself - to be able to adapt, so I am looking forward to the 2010 machines.
Q: You can judge your level of fitness very accurately. How do you compare that level now to how you were in 2006?
MS: I have no doubt that I will achieve the same level as when I left Formula One three years ago. I have never really stopped working on my fitness so that was never a point of concern.
Q: It is no secret that you are a little bit older than your opponents. Could coming back and winning races - and possibly winning the championship again - turn into the greatest achievement of your career?
MS: It certainly would be a unique experience and a unique achievement. But first let me get into the car and then talk later.