He has not even so much as set foot inside the cockpit of his new F1 car yet, but already it seems controversy is following Michael Schumacher around – as the record-breaking multiple world champion found himself on the uncomfortable receiving end of questions regarding his on-track tactics at the launch of Mercedes Grand Prix's 2010 challenger, and he clearly did not take kindly to suggestions that he is incapable of racing fair.
The bare statistics cannot be denied, and that Schumacher has claimed an unprecedented tally of seven drivers' crowns, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and a staggering 1,369 points from 249 previous starts at the highest level is an unquestionable measure of arguably the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.
The German's career CV, however, will perhaps forever be tainted by accusations that he has either cheated or acted unethically in order to gain the upper hand over his adversaries, most notably in deliberately running into Williams title rivals Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in the deciding races in 1994 and 1997 respectively – though on the latter occasion it was he who came off worst – and infamously and conveniently 'parking' his Ferrari in the middle of the track in the dying stages of qualifying at Monaco in 2006 in order to assure himself of pole position, of which he was subsequently stripped.
What's more, BBC F1
pundit David Coulthard – who raced quite literally wheel-to-wheel with Schumacher many times during his own 15-year career in the top flight – has warned that the 'ruthless' steak displayed so often in the past will not have been diluted by three years away from the fray [see separate story – click here
Another criticism of the Kerpen native is that his true place in history has never been able to be fully and accurately gauged by dint of his refusal to go head-to-head in the same team with a driver considered to be at a similar level to him, with some surmising that his retirement at the end of 2006 was precipitated by the fact that he was unwilling to compare himself against the incoming Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, who Luca di Montezemolo was bringing into the Scuderia
come what may.
Indeed, that he successfully requested to be allowed to swap car numbers with new Mercedes team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg ahead of the forthcoming season – to carry No.3 rather than the unloved No.4 [see separate story – click here
] – has been interpreted in some quarters as pulling rank before the racing has even got underway.
Forced to defend his reputation as his past returned to haunt him seven weeks before the F1 2010 campaign revs into life with the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in mid-March, it seems 'Schumi' is already making the headlines again – and, once more, not entirely for all the right reasons.
“Ninety-one victories, seven titles, you win only in a bad way,” he sarcastically retorted, according to The Times
, when asked if he felt his comeback betrayed a need to prove himself against the new young guard in F1. “Absolutely, yeah, you're right, I need to prove [myself] now. I did win all this in the manner in which you are trying to ask questions.”
On a brighter note, however – and having already been installed by the bookies as third-favourite behind McLaren-Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari new boy Fernando Alonso to clinch an eighth world championship trophy this year – following a prolonged visit to Mercedes Grand Prix's Brackley headquarters, the 41-year-old confessed that he can hardly wait to get going.
“We have everything it takes to be world champions again,” Schumacher underlined, as he prepares to rekindle his hugely successful working relationship with team principal Ross Brawn, the man who helped to expertly engineer him to each and every one of his world championships at first Benetton and then Ferrari. “It's one thing to have all the ingredients and it's another to conjure a result, but with the experience Ross has, with what he did last year and with Mercedes' know-how and the quality they have, I'm sorry, but there is only one target.
“Compared to the past when there was one team able to compete, the way it is now there are two or three teams. Last year was probably an exception, and it might be again, but in all honesty it doesn't really matter. You are there to win, against whoever it is you have to look out for. It doesn't matter whether they are young or experienced; when you're in the car you don't look at how old your opponent is or who it is, you just look at how you can be better.”