Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. At least, that’s the way Michael Schumacher would have it. Schumi was recently interviewed byt he official Formula 1 website, and asked if he thought he was quicker than his young team mate and fellow German, Nico Rosberg.
“I see all the details. True, with how the car behaves at the moment I am not driving at his level. At least not in qualifying. In the race it’s very equal. I know precisely how I can change that fact – and I am working on it.”
So while Schumi admits that Rosberg seems to have the measure of him at the moment, he repeated an assertion that’s become something of a mantra among the Mercedes squad. “Every driver has his own driving style,” he said, “and you have to work with the team so that you feel comfortable with the package. I achieved that with Ferrari. But that doesn’t happen overnight. It is no secret that at the moment our car has characteristics that don’t suit me. Now it is up to us to change that. Then the situation will be different.”
Although many critics have suggested that Schumacher should spare himself further humiliation, and hang up his helmet at the end of this season, the German ace shouldn’t be underestimated. Formula 1 supremo Bernie Eccelstone, who was also present at the interview, pointed out that one of Schumacher’s strengths was that, from the outset of his Formula 1 career, he was able to fill a leadership role, helping to make critical decisions for the direction of his teams.
“He upgraded himself from pure driver to ‘team manager’ at Benetton,” Bernie said.
Smiling, Schumi said, “That’s not totally correct. That was rather more the case at Ferrari.”
And this is where young Nico Rosberg might take note. Schumacher went on to describe his potential leadership role at Mercedes, saying, “I have worked together with [team principal] Ross [Brawn] and others in the team for so many years that it is natural that my job is not limited to driving only. I’m surely no engineer nor aerodynamicist, but I have enough experience to know the direction it should head in to be successful. With all these computer programs and all the data flowing from it, it is still men who make the decisions.”
In other words, Schumacher thinks the current car (which Jenson Button, who drove for the team last year, has said was designed around his preferences) is a dog, and he’ll do his utmost to make sure next year’s car is more to his taste.
Throughout the history of Formula 1, one of the hallmarks of great drivers has been their ability to exert a quasi-managerial authority over their teams. Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Prost and Senna all did this to varying degrees. Perhaps Senna was Schumacher’s own model in this respect, as the fiery Brazilian often seemed to have more control over McLaren than did putative team honcho Ron Dennis.
Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect that the Merecedes W02 will be the first Schumacher Mercedes. Whether this will put Schumi back on a par with or ahead of Rosberg remains to be seen. Whether or not the W02 turns out to be competitive, it won’t be for lack of Schumacher’s input.