F1 comeback king Michael Schumacher has admitted that having revealed more emotion than usual in the build-up to his sensational return to active competition in the top flight with Mercedes Grand Prix in 2010, he may well yet 'close up' again before the starting lights go out in Bahrain in just over three weeks' time.
Schumacher's record-breaking career statistics to-date of seven drivers' world championship crowns, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and a staggering points haul of 1,369 have been achieved, some argue, by dint of a clinical, calculating, take-no-prisoners approach. Unlike rivals such as Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello, for example, emotion does not form a part of the German's make-up – and many contend that he is a more complete package for that.
However, at the launch of the Mercedes W01 challenger last month, the 41-year-old appeared clearly unsettled when asked about some of his questionable on-track tactics in the past – and facing accusations that three years out of the cockpit have mellowed him to a degree, he has reflected that he perhaps needs to rediscover his ruthless, ultra-competitive and somewhat aloof streak if he is to successfully pick up again from where he left off.
“I simply think that if you are around as long as I have been there will always be people who follow you more and some who follow you less,” 'Schumi' told the official F1 website, when it was put to him that he is a rather divisive and controversial 'love-or-hate' figure, in part as a result of his fierce focus on keeping his private life just that – private.
“To be able to be around for so long, I sometimes had to close myself up a bit. It may be the same again this time. It was a very sudden decision [to return], so we all have to get used to seeing me drive again – myself included...”
Going on to insist that his neck has given him 'no problem at all' during pre-season testing so far in Valencia and Jerez, Schumacher explained that his doctor Johannes Peil appeared at the first test merely 'to do some checks, as he has been with me very often in the past' and 'to make sure I am best-prepared' – adding, ominously: “Obviously, I am...”
“We will focus on the elimination of any teething problems, try to optimise the car, start to work on the fine-tuning and get reliability by doing mileage,” the Kerpen native – now the oldest man in the field – continued on the subject of Mercedes' F1 2010 preparations. “It has been just pure fun. Then let's see what Bahrain brings and how the season develops.
“Unfortunately, I cannot look into the future, but I do not expect anything else but for [his relationship with young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg] to be fine. At the moment it is very constructive, and I don't expect that to change. For once, it is quite a good feeling to be able to communicate in my mother tongue, and at the moment we are 'neighbours' as our motor homes are right beside each other in the paddock.
“I believe in this team, and this belief in the challenge is enough for me. I love the competition, and I look forward to taking the chance.”