For­ward to Spain

SHUMI: ‘Still has the speed’

Weekend Witness - - Weekend -

MERCEDES team chief Ross Brawn has fore­cast that his vet­eran seven-times cham­pion driver Michael Schumacher will bounce back to form at this week­end’s Span­ish Grand Prix.

Af­ter a desul­tory show­ing at the Turk­ish Grand Prix, where he fin­ished 12th and was in­volved in a col­li­sion with Re­nault’s Vi­taly Petrov, the 42-year-old Ger­man talked of los­ing his joy — a com­ment that sparked spec­u­la­tion that he is ready to re­tire.

But in this week’s build-up to one of the key races of the sea­son, Brawn made it clear that he still has great faith in the driver who he has backed and worked with suc­cess­fully for most of the past 20 years.

“I am sure the last race wasn’t very joy­ful, and that is what he was re­fer­ring to. When you have a race like that, it’s go­ing to knock you back, but I think he’s pretty re­silient and I’m op­ti­mistic that this week­end he will be back where we want him,” said Brawn.

Asked about Schumacher’s com­ments and the no­tion that he is no longer en­joy­ing rac­ing in F1, Brawn said: “That is def­i­nitely tak­ing it too far.

“I have spo­ken to him since then. We had a lot of tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions and he was has­sling about what we were do­ing about the car, what is com­ing along, what im­prove­ments we have got — so noth­ing has changed. We are op­ti­mistic.”

Schumacher has won the Span­ish Grand Prix six times in his record to­tal of 91 Grand Prix vic­to­ries, with the last in 2004 dur­ing his hal­cyon days at Fer­rari, where he en­joyed un­prece­dented suc­cess and lifted five suc­ces­sive driv­ers’ ti­tles.

Brawn, one of the great­est pit-wall boffins of all time, and a supreme de­signer and race en­gi­neer, was Schumacher’s tech­ni­cal boss through­out that pe­riod and at Benet­ton in the midnineties, when he lifted his first two cham­pi­onship crowns.

Brawn said that he feels that the one-time cham­pion may need to pay at­ten­tion to a few de­tails in his per­for­mance, but he has not lost any of his raw, com­pet­i­tive speed.

Schumacher’s speed, mo­ti­va­tion and per­for­mance will be one of the many is­sues be­ing watched closely at the Cir­cuit de Catalunya, where af­ter their “blip” in China, the awe­some cham­pion Red Bull team hope to main­tain their gen­eral dom­i­nance this year.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Se­bas­tian Vet­tel said: “We know the Barcelona cir­cuit well from test­ing. It should be suit­able for our car and our plan is to get the best team re­sult pos­si­ble.

“His­tor­i­cally, Barcelona is a cir­cuit that is poor for over­tak­ing, but with the Drag Re­duc­tion Sys­tem (DRS) this will now be quite dif­fer­ent.”

Vet­tel has won three of the four races so far this year, in­clud­ing the Turk­ish Grand Prix, and he knows that a back-to-back “dou­ble” of win­ning in Barcelona and then Monte Carlo, just seven days later, would give him a great ad­van­tage in his bid for a sec­ond ti­tle.

But he will be pushed hard by the pace of his team-mate and ri­val Aus­tralian Mark Web­ber, and Bri­ton’s for­mer cham­pi­ons Lewis Hamil­ton and Jen­son But­ton of McLaren, as well as Fer­rari’s two-times cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso, who will be rev­el­ling in the sup­port at his home race.

Web­ber said: “For me, the cir­cuit is great. The sur­face and lay­out are both very good for driv­ing an F1 car at the limit. The last sec­tor used to be very quick, but now, for the past few years, we’ve had a slow chi­cane which breaks the rhythm of the lap up a lit­tle bit. All in all, I en­joy driv­ing the car on this track.

“Of course, I want to im­prove on my re­sult in Tur­key. So that means try­ing to fin­ish on the top step.”

It could also be the last be­fore the on-of / on-off tech­ni­cal rules’ re­vi­sions are in­tro­duced, re­strict­ing the use of en­gine-man­age­ment sys­tems that could see some of the top teams’ per­for­mances cur­tailed.

Cham­pion Vet­tel leads this year’s driv­ers’ stand­ings with 93 points, ahead of Hamil­ton on 59, Web­ber on 55 and But­ton on 46. Alonso is fifth with 41. — Sapa-AFP.

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