Schumacher faces up to his past

January 26, 2010

SPORT-MOTOR/MERCEDESThe late Peter Ustinov, a comic connoisseur of national stereotypes in his 1958 spoof commentary for an imaginary Grand Prix of Gibraltar, might have enjoyed Monday’s Mercedes team launch in Stuttgart.

As Michael Schumacher observed, referring to his new employers’ prospects for the season ahead, all the ingredients were there.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, a man whose walrus moustache would not look out of place in a Munich beer hall, spoke firmly of the birth of the Deutsche Nationalmannschaft, the German national team.

An American reporter kicked off the questions to team principal Ross Brawn with a technical poser about the challenges of designing the 2010 car under the new rules, before the British media scratched around and dusted off old Anglo-German
rivalries.

Schumacher, returning at the age of 41, was asked whether he felt he needed to prove he could win “in the right way” after controversies dating back to the days when he and Britain’s Damon Hill battled for the title.

The Italians wanted to know whether the former Ferrari favourite had been back to his favourite restaurant in Maranello.

There will be plenty more of this over the course of the season, one already presented in Britain as an Anglo-German duel between British heroes Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in the McLaren camp and the all-German line-up at Mercedes.

“Brit Basher” declared the Sun website on Tuesday over a picture of a smiling Schumacher.

Brawn, who has seen it all before as Schumacher’s technical director at Ferrari, smiled.

“Having worked for an Italian team for 10 years, I tend to look beyond those things and it’s a British-based team,” he said. “I’m sure there will be elements in the press who will like to accentuate that (nationalistic) part but from our perspective as a team, we don’t think about it.”

One has to suspect that Schumacher and Mercedes are thinking more about Ferrari than McLaren.

In a nod to the driver’s glorious past, and one that may not go down too well with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, Mercedes showed an advertisement before their launch for the new SLS gullwing sportscar that will be pitched squarely at would-be Ferrari buyers.

In it, Schumacher takes the red Mercedes on a seductive road trip before emerging to wink straight at the viewer. The Red Baron always was a German but the passion for Ferrari still burns within.

“It is simply the fact that quite a lot of my history and part of my heart is red,” the seven times champion explained later under questioning by an Italian reporter.

“You can’t just forget and deny all the good moments we’ve had together. And I really look forward to again seeing some of my friends that I have been together with for so long. I still have regular contact with (Ferrari team boss) Stefano (Domenicali), every so often he calls me up. He just invited me for the ski week that is a very private thing amongst the Ferrari family.

“I am still friends with them and this will not stop. we will compete but it doesn’t mean that we have to forget everything that happened in the past.”

Indeed. The British media has made that clear already.

PHOTO: Michael Schumacher addresses the media during a news conference after the team presentation at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, January 25, 2010. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

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