Exclusive interview - Mercedes' Michael Schumacher

20 Apr 2012

Seeing seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher on top of his game again - even if it was team mate Nico Rosberg who scored Mercedes’ big win in China - is still a massive story in Formula One racing. And watching the legend live on in a ‘Silver Arrow’ is almost too good to be true. We caught up with Schumacher in Bahrain to talk about his team’s 2012 breakthrough…

Q: Michael, after two rather frustrating years it looks like we have finally seen a breakthrough for Mercedes. When did you start believing it could happen and that it wasn’t just a pipe dream?

Michael Schumacher: We already knew during the winter tests that we had made a significant leap forward and have consequently been able to show that in qualifying, but unfortunately not in the first two races. These races were pretty disappointing - especially in my case - so it was very important and a real relief that we’ve been able to shine in China and hold the first and second positions for a certain amount of laps. It demonstrated that from now on we hopefully will be able to translate our qualifying pace into race performance. Of course, there’s always the question of whether what we saw in Shanghai was just a flash in the pan or if we can pull that off at other races. If you look at the races so far we have seen winners you wouldn’t necessarily have on your radar for victory, like Fernando Alonso in Malaysia or like Sergio Perez’s second place there. These results came as a complete surprise. Nobody would have been able to make such a prediction. With that in mind there is a question mark over whether we have made that breakthrough to the top or if we are still just drawing near. When you remember where we were last year, you cannot expect us to be the pace makers. Shanghai was one of those days where everything fell perfectly into place and of course we hope to repeat it at other races this season. Keep your fingers crossed!

Q: To dominate, do you need that special technological feature - like Red Bull’s exhaust last year and your team’s ‘double DRS/ F-duct’ system this year?

MS: It was probably very much true in the past. But looking at our F-duct you only use it in qualifying and when overtaking. And when you look at the Shanghai race, Nico didn’t have to overtake once so he was not relying on that system, which means that the performance was real. It was a straightforward win with a straightforward car.

Q: So was everything down to starting from pole position?

MS: That is a long story. Qualifying is overrated these days, with all the DRS and KERS systems. Two to three years ago the grid position mattered, but since then it has become less important as a key tool to race wins.

Q: Seeing you at the post-qualifying press conference in Malaysia harked back to old times. How did it feel for you?

MS: Only the colour of the overalls had changed… (laughs) Yes, it was great. It was the proof that things were going in the right direction. We had to wait two years for that situation. Of course we had hoped that it would happen sooner - that it would happen right away - so after all the disappointments it was a pretty good moment.

Q: Team principal Ross Brawn always believed in you and said that as soon as they gave you a competitive car you would be right up there again. Is it now payback time?

MS: Yes, Ross never doubted me simply because he knows me. But it was more than just the ‘Ross factor’. It was bringing together Ross, Mercedes and me, which was based on the strong ties that I always had with Mercedes. And to be realistic, the fully-fledged payback has not started yet so let’s wait and see.

Q: A very personal question: how are you managing with being slightly older than your rivals?

MS: That’s an interesting question - and to be honest I don’t have an answer to that, but let me try. Whatever life period you are in success is never just one thing. It is always a combination of many things and I think it goes without saying that I work very hard for it. Probably I am blessed with certain prerequisites - having good genes etc. - but one factor definitely is motivation. I am blessed in that motivation comes naturally to me. I don’t have to artificially trigger it. I love competition and to be confronted with competition. Sure there are times when I also have to fight inner temptations, but that was also the case 20 years ago, so this has nothing to do with the here-and-now or age.

Q: Coming back to the car, how much of the recent progress can be attributed to you?

MS: This is a development process I am involved in. Together with the whole team we managed to bring us up to success. But the real success we are aiming for is still to come. That still requires a bit more work and we will definitely do that work.

Q: What do you personally want to achieve this season? When you have a taste of success you always want more…

MS: Of course you do. If you have the chance to be at the top you go for it - that’s just natural, human nature. And believe me, at no point in the last two years was there ever the thought that we are so far behind that there’s no need to drive your heart out. You always try to get the maximum possible out of a situation and maximize the result. The more you put in, the sweeter the reward!

Q: Do you have a minimum and maximum you want to achieve this year and would they influence your decision for 2013?

MS: Ah, that’s how the land lies! (laughs) Well, I definitely don’t want to talk about my guidelines, but of course I have my ideas! I will sit down with the team when the time is right to discuss the future. But there is nothing concrete I would be able to tell you right here, right now.

Q: So let’s move to a more concrete topic - the tyres. Up and down the paddock you hear that they are a mystery, we don’t understand them, so on and so forth. Is it up to modern day Formula One drivers to find answers to that puzzle?

MS: Indeed tyres are more critical than in any other past year of my F1 career, so you are very likely to find somebody in every team who is making that a topic. This year’s tyres are so special that you are always in a guessing game each weekend to find out what works and what doesn’t. Maybe it’s a bit sad, as you probably should be able to concentrate on other things, but that’s how it is so we all have to deal with it.

Q: So the tyre situation in 2012 is even a novelty for somebody with 20 years’ experience?

MS: Yes. You think that with a single tyre supplier it should be possible to make standardized tyres that work for everybody. And it is probably a bit strange to think that a tyre will crown the champion this year. Very likely this is positive for Pirelli because they are constantly in the media, but I personally wish that they would find another way to achieve that awareness! (smiles)

Q: Did you watch the team’s first Grand Prix win, despite your retirement from the race?

MS: I was there until the chequered flag, listening to the team radio and keeping my fingers crossed. It was fantastic for the team. Even if it wasn’t me who delivered it, I was so excited as it was important for the team to clock this success. It was important for the vibes in the team, but also for the trust that our partners had put in us.

Q: What about the race this Sunday? Will Mercedes muscle in again on the usual suspects?

MS: If only I knew! (laughs) Well, today it was a bit unlucky that I had to abort my fastest lap due to traffic. The tyres do degrade very quickly so it will be all about tyre management on Sunday. It’s the same thing over the last 20 years for me. Friday is to warm up and the times mean nothing. The question is whether you were able to complete your programme properly and I have to say that it wasn’t a bad start to the weekend. As for everything else, let’s wait and see…

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