Michael Schumacher has confessed that part of his heart will always remain red – in reference to Ferrari, the team with whom he competed in F1 from 1996 until his 'retirement' in 2006 – but as he makes what is being billed as the greatest comeback in sporting history with Mercedes Grand Prix in 2010, the record-breaking multiple world champion also makes it very clear indeed that he plans to be seeing an awful lot of red in his mirrors this year.
Schumacher found himself vilified by the ardent, passionate tifosi
for what they widely interpreted as being a betrayal in walking out on his Ferrari 'family' in order to return to active competition with arch-rival Mercedes, three years on from having hung up his helmet following no fewer than five world championship crowns and 72 grand prix victories for the revered Scuderia
A further three years as a sporting advisor and occasional test driver for the Prancing Horse ensued, and almost a decade-and-a-half on from first arriving at Maranello, it was generally assumed that the most successful driver in F1 history would never again leave – but now he has. Still, he insists, whilst his new car will be painted in silver rather than scarlet in 2010, Ferrari will always have a very special place inside his soul.
“Quite a lot of my history and part of my heart is red,” Schumacher is quoted as having said by the Daily Mirror
. “You can't forget or deny all the good moments together, and I'm really looking forward to seeing some of my friends I was with for so long.
“I'm still in regular contact. Every so often [Ferrari team principal] Stefano [Domenicali] calls me up, and he invited me to the recent skiing week, which is a private thing for the Ferrari family. I'm still friends with them, and this will not stop. Of course we will compete, but it doesn't mean we forget everything that happened in the past.”
The German legend will return to the track in anger for the first time when pre-season testing gets into gear at Jerez in southern Spain at the beginning of next week. As he bids to recreate his youth at the comparatively grand old age of 41 in relation to the average 20-something age of today's leading F1 lights, it is almost as if 'Schumi' has come full circle, having gained his initial entry into the top flight off the back of a successful sportscar apprenticeship with Mercedes some two decades ago.
“I don't have to prove anything to anybody about my age,” he urged, as he endeavours to add to his extraordinary career CV. “I just have to prove to myself that I'm obviously still able, and the main reason why I'm doing this is because I'm thrilled about it. I feel huge excitement to just drive and compete at the highest level of motorsport.”
Those sentiments are corroborated by the Brackley-based outfit's team principal Ross Brawn, the man who expertly engineered the Kerpen native to each and every one of his seven drivers' titles between 1994 and 2004, firstly at Benetton and subsequently Ferrari. The Englishman is adamant that Schumacher can still take on – and beat – the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, who have been amongst the principal beneficiaries of the limelight since he left.
“First of all, raw talent doesn't disappear,” Brawn reasoned. “What normally happens with drivers is that they lose the physical ability to compete, and F1 is a very physical sport. They also lose the determination you need to compete at every race, every minute of the day and every lap on the circuit.
“What I've seen with Michael is that he has been refreshed by his break; I've had that experience myself of a sabbatical, and I know that it reminds you of the good things, the things you miss. We've seen today he is looking incredibly fit, and far younger than his 41 years. I don't think the physical side is a problem, and he has shown amazing commitment and dedication already by working hard with the engineers.
“I don't think the talent disappears, and even if it eases off a little, you've the huge experience he has to compensate. He wouldn't do this if he wasn't convinced he could do the job – and I'm convinced he can do the job. I've already seen amazing commitment, and it reminded me of the old Michael Schumacher.”