Schumi returns as if he’d never left
When Germany’s best-selling tabloid Bild sends two reporters to an overseas Formula One test in the depths of February, you know something big is brewing.
The return of Michael Schumacher, and the seven times world champion’s first drive of the new Mercedes W01, in Valencia on Monday triggered scenes reminiscent of the glory days when the German was so dominant with Ferrari.
Reporters and television crews pushed, shoved and elbowed each other to get a Schumacher soundbite at the end of the session.
His first lap was echoing around the blogosphere before he had even crossed the finish line.
Schumacher had earlier shown a fair turn of speed out on the racetrack — so fast that he bamboozled the timing system into putting him out front by a massive margin until it became obvious he had taken one of Bernie Ecclestone’s recommended short cuts — and ended the day third fastest.
Times do not mean a lot in testing, with the new fuel regulations leaving plenty of scope for teams to run light and impress would-be backers while others run through programmes with a full tank, but this all looked pretty good nonetheless.
“He was very enthusiastic. It was good to see the enthusiasm,” said team principal Ross Brawn. It would have been more of a surprise for me if he hadn’t been where he is today – so it was just confirmation really of what we both thought, that Michael should be competitive. One thing that came through was Michael’s precision about what is going on in the car. He has great clarity of reasoning in what he does and that is nice to work with again. It was a bit like old days but not as far back as ’91.”
Schumacher looked as if he had never been away, only the red helmet striking a discordant note with the silver Mercedes overalls.
That, and the motorhome borrowed from brother Ralf and somewhat eclipsed by the grey monster belonging to team mate Nico Rosberg and parked alongside.
Otherwise it was just like old times, with a twist.
“I suddenly see my old car on the track and I’m not sitting in it, and it is a strange sensation,” he said of taking part in the session along with former Ferrari team mate and friend Felipe Massa.
He was not the only one to find old habits die hard.
You can attend the Mercedes launch in Stuttgart, talk to Schumacher on the telephone and write reams about what could be the greatest comeback the sport has ever seen — and yet still be caught out.
“What time is Michael doing his press briefing?,” I absent-mindedly enquired of the Ferrari spokesman in the morning. The look of disbelief on his face was matched only by mine turning the same colour as his shirt.
Red. Ferrari red.