Sir Jackie Stewart has opined that arguably the greatest motivation for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in F1 2010 as they bid to keep the drivers' world championship crown in Britain for a third consecutive campaign is the prospect of being 'beaten up' by returning grand prix legend Michael Schumacher – a man now into his fifth decade in life.
As many as eight drivers are being touted as potential world champions this year, a situation not witnessed in the top flight for a long, long time – and McLaren-Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Button and Mercedes Grand Prix star Schumacher are all amongst them.
Whilst the British duo might have perhaps expected to enjoy a fair degree of media spotlight heading into the forthcoming season as the two most recent title-winners, the sensational return-to-arms of record-breaking, seven-time world champion Schumacher – in what is being described in some quarters as the greatest comeback in sporting history – has somewhat stolen their thunder.
Now, Stewart contends, they will be keen to make sure he does not do likewise out on the race track too – and the Scot stresses that avoiding the kind of bitter inter-team politics, acrimonious and damaging in-fighting and ego-driven feuds that characterised and marred the Senna/Prost and even Hamilton/Alonso years will be pivotal to achieving that target.
“It's fantastic for motor racing that [Schumacher] has come back,” Britain's most successful F1 driver – with three world championship trophies to his name – is quoted as having said by Planet-F1
, “because he is now the biggest focus of interest.
“Fernando Alonso driving a Ferrari is going to be tough to beat, you've got Jenson in there as world champion [and] you've got Lewis, who wants the world championship back. To see that occurring with Schumacher back, that's the extra edge – in my opinion – for them. Do they really want to be beaten up by a guy of 41 years, who's already been out of the sport? He's going to come back and say, 'I know how to do this, and I certainly know how to thread the needle'.
“It is a challenge and there is competition within a team, [but] Jim Clark and Graham Hill got on well together driving for Lotus. At the end of the day, you've got to finish the race, you've got to keep your head together and not get intoxicated by all the nonsense that goes on – and you've got to have the team behind you. Sometimes that's more important than anything else – the motivation of other people who are supporting you.”
One factor that might play in the favour of Hamilton, Button, Alonso and co – in the early stages at least – is that the Mercedes MGP 001 appears not quite to have the outright raw pace of either the McLaren MP4-25 or Ferrari F10 on the evidence of pre-season testing. They'd better make hay whilst the sun continues to shine, however, warns Stewart, as if any driver can help a team to play catch-up in a hurry, it is Michael Schumacher.
“Maybe it will take him another year to get the car up-to-speed,” the 70-year-old mused. “It may not be as good a car as Ferrari and McLaren are producing this year, [but] Schumacher is so experienced and he's so good at co-ordinating people that I think you'll see the performance improving for him. I could see him not being up at the front to begin with, but you certainly couldn't count him out.”