Michael Schumacher raised many eyebrows with his decision to return to Formula 1 a couple of years ago. After all, what more could a record seven-time world champion expect from a cockpit comeback?
His record since then has been poor by his standards, but tomorrow he starts his third year with Mercedes at the Albert Park Grand Prix in Australia, and he?s looking good for a better showing this year.
In fact, if yesterday?s afternoon practice session during which he chalked up the fastest time is anything to go by, the 43-year-old German appears to be finding his old form.
Ever popular in Greece, Schumacher took his foot off the pedal for a few minutes to speak exclusively to Kathimerini before the red lights go out in Melbourne. He revealed why he came back when he did, showed his renewed ambition and pledged to fight on.
What are your thoughts about this year?s championship?
We see more and more that predictions are nearly impossible to make. During the winter tests, everybody is working on different schedules, so it is very difficult to compare the different teams. After last year?s experience, when we were really optimistic after the last tests and then saw in Australia that we were wrong, I prefer to wait and see. In any case, we have made a step forward, our car is reliable, so it is a positive trend. How positive? We will only learn that later.
Was it ambition, money or the racing atmosphere that made you come back?
It was a fascinating coincidence which made me come back. Suddenly there was a free cockpit, suddenly Mercedes was cooperating with Ross Brawn?s team, so the combination was tempting. When Ross called me and offered me the seat, the combination of the competence of Mercedes and the then world champion team was extremely attractive for me, and to do this with old friends made it extra exciting. It was like the circle was closing after all the years I spent in Formula One: I concluded my first ever driver?s contract with Mercedes -- back then in Group C and Le Mans -- and Mercedes also supported me when entering the F1. So finishing my career with Mercedes somehow makes sense.
Do you miss winning races and getting onto the podium, or is the fun of racing enough for you?
I am definitely not driving for fun; I am here to win races. But it is extreme fun to try to do it, to race, to take up the challenge. Of course I want to be on the podium, ideally in the middle.
Did you ever have second thoughts about making a comeback?
You mean because I have not won yet? No. This is sport, it?s about working hard to achieve your goals and about never having a guaranteed success. I am a fighter and I am happy to have a lot of titles under my belt. At the moment I am facing a tough period, but that does not mean I?m going to quit just because it?s tough.
Schumacher politely refused to answer questions about his charity work, which a few years ago had brought him over to Greece for a charity soccer match in Piraeus. He also evaded questions regarding Greece?s image abroad, although he?s definitely still one of the most popular Germans in Greece, along with soccer manager Otto Rehhagel.
He was quite willing however to offer his view on a subject about which every F1 fan has an opinion:
Apart from yourself, who do you rate as the best driver ever?
Impossible to say in my opinion. There are different times, different tracks, different cars, different possibilities. People ask me that a lot, but you cannot compare different things. Of course Ayrton Senna was a special driver, but was he better than Juan Manuel Fangio? Who could ever say? It is a great sport, and there are a lot of great drivers.