Michael Schumacher might have lapped a competitive third-quickest on his return to F1 testing action on the opening day in Valencia this week – indeed, fleetingly a staggering four seconds faster than anybody
else until it transpired that he had cut the chicane in order to achieve that time – but fears remain about the state of the seven-time world champion's neck after his personal doctor was spotted in the paddock.
Schumacher completed 40 laps of the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in the Spanish city on Monday afternoon, and lopped a full six tenths of a second off the earlier best effort of Mercedes Grand Prix team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg, though the younger German was admittedly running on a heavy fuel load and struggling with a less-than-ideal driving position inside the new W01.
The record-breaking Kerpen-born native was forced to abandon plans to temporarily substitute former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa in the wake of the Brazilian's life-threatening Hungaroring qualifying accident last summer, after a recurring neck injury – the legacy of a motorcycling fall at Cartagena in Spain twelve months ago – came back to haunt him.
Upon agreeing terms for a three-year contract with reigning double F1 World Champions Mercedes in December – to make what has been billed as the greatest comeback in sporting history – Schumacher insisted that his neck was no longer an issue, but the presence of both his personal doctor Johannes Peil and physiotherapist Kai Schnapka has cast fresh doubt upon that conviction, particularly given that the physical stresses and strains of a grand prix race distance are somewhat more demanding than 40 laps around a testing track. Some reports even alluded to 'secret tests' taking place later that evening.
“I'm superstitious, so we will have to wait and see,” Dr. Peil told Sportsmail
, before adding in an interview with German news agency DPA
: “He is now back to the normal cycle and can train to the normal extent. He can concentrate on driving again.”
The 41-year-old himself appeared far from concerned about his fitness, insisting: “I feel very good. I have worked very well, prepared myself extremely precisely – and this is the result.”