Forward to Spain
SHUMI: ‘Still has the speed’
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.