IT’S OFF TO WORK WE GO
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