What with the re­lent­less travel, con­stant en­gi­neer­ing meet­ings and me­dia work – and not for­get­ting the all-im­por­tant on-track per­for­mances – a grand prix week­end re­quires such a high level of con­cen­tra­tion that as Sun­day evening ap­proaches, drivers are drained of en­ergy. But back in the early 2000s, those fa­bled days of un­lim­ited test­ing, Michael Schu­macher would be back out on track on the Mon­day morn­ing, post-grand prix, and then again on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day if re­quired. He was al­most au­tom­a­ton-like in his ded­i­ca­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion, gain­ing Fer­rari an in­valu­able ad­van­tage against such keen ri­vals as a Mika Häkki­nen-led Mclaren.

“If we needed him to test, I would ring Michael up and say ‘Can you be here to­mor­row?’” Ross Brawn re­calls. “‘Yep, what time?’ would be the re­ply. Never any hes­i­ta­tion. One or two oth­ers I would ring up and it would be, ‘Oh, well, I want to see my kids to­mor­row, it’s a birth­day party,’ and all the rest of it. You never had those dis­cus­sions with Michael, be­cause he knew that if you asked it was im­por­tant.”

As a re­sult of that work ethic, Schu­macher’s time be­hind the wheel meant he would lead the car’s de­vel­op­ment work, whether he was help­ing trial a new com­pound of tyre for Bridge­stone or a new sus­pen­sion com­po­nent. “There was never a mo­ment when he wasn’t 100 per cent fo­cused on the car or the team,” con­tin­ues Brawn. “I won’t name them, but I had other drivers who were at the track do­ing prop­erty deals, on­line gam­bling or play­ing video games. He never did that; he never al­lowed him­self any dis­trac­tions – and even away from the track he would spend a lot of time on the phone with his en­gi­neer. His team-mates were al­ways shocked by the sheer amount of time, ef­fort and com­mit­ment he put into im­prov­ing him­self and the team.”

To­day’s reg­u­la­tions have se­verely re­stricted test­ing, but there is a very no­table ex­am­ple of one cur­rent driver who went tyre test­ing just days after win­ning his first world cham­pi­onship in a breath­less end-of-sea­son show­down race. That man is Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, who was run­ning third in the cham­pi­onship bat­tle go­ing into the Abu Dhabi sea­son fi­nale in 2010, yet as­ton­ish­ingly emerged as champion, hav­ing leap-frogged Red Bull team­mate Mark Web­ber as well as Fer­rari’s Fer­nando Alonso after se­cur­ing pole and vic­tory.

Vet­tel might have been for­given for skip­ping the post-sea­son test to cel­e­brate, but just a couple of days later he flew back to Abu Dhabi to test Pirelli tyres for the first time. Fol­low­ing Bridge­stone’s with­drawal at the end of 2010, Pirelli would be­come F1’s sole tyre sup­plier from 2011 and the test was cru­cial for fi­nal­is­ing sus­pen­sion and aero­dy­namic de­sign. Vet­tel was also the first driver to pay a visit to the Pirelli fac­tory in Italy. So, de­spite achiev­ing his life’s am­bi­tion in such dra­matic fash­ion, he was al­ready think­ing about the fol­low­ing sea­son and get­ting down to work. Does that sound fa­mil­iar?

The sheer vol­ume of work Michael put in at Fio­rano was leg­endary. The days of un­lim­ited test­ing are now over, but to­day’s drivers know that to suc­ceed they must em­u­late his work ethic

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