Michael Schumacher has again played down suggestions that he will head back into retirement when the current F1 campaign comes to a close in Abu Dhabi in November, insisting that he is already looking ahead to next season.
The German was the subject of renewed speculation amid reports of heightened activity in and around the Mercedes motorhome at Monza, but quickly put reporters straight when the question of his future was raised in Singapore ahead of this weekend's night race. Even though the motorsport press has been hinting that Mercedes is poised to offer the seven-time world champion a management role - possibly even in preparation to succeed Ross Brawn as team principal - Schumacher maintains that he is still working towards better performances in 2011.
“You won't get rid of me that easily, put it that way!” Schumacher claimed, without confirming whether he would be a driver or administrator, "It's certainly the case that we know that we have nothing to win this year so, whereas [Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari] are contending for the championship, we have a little bit of a time advantage [for next season]. Don't forget we are [operating] with slightly smaller resources as well, and we hope that this can compensate and we can do a very good job [next year]. Focusing on next year's car is vital in our position and hopefully we can have similar playing fields from then on. Our goal is the world championship — and the sooner the better - but we are in a process. We are not magicians."
An improved 2011 car is seen as key to Schumacher's prolonged presence in the top flight, as he has openly struggled to get the best from the WO1, which did not
benefit from the same advance planning as its successor because of the success of the Brawn car in 2009. Having had three years on the sidelines prior to his 2010 return, the German has also struggled to adapt his driving style to the current breed of Bridgestone tyre, and many are suggesting that this winter's first tests with new supplier Pirelli could also play a part in shaping his future.
“Naturally, if we knew exactly what the problem was, we would simply stop it and change it,” he reasoned, “But it's a process. If you think about it, it took me about four years to build up to finally being able to win a championship with Benetton, and, at Ferrari, it took me five years, so I hope we're much more efficient here. It's a process of getting things together with the engineer, working very closely, and setting the car up as much as possible to your own needs.
“We are obviously more limited because we have tyres that are given and you have a car that has a certain characteristic, so certainly, in a way, I do feel that the harmony between these two components and myself is not yet there. But we are working on it to make it in harmony.”
The German is quick to insist, however, that the Abu Dhabi test will not be as critical as many are making out.
“I think there are two questions that need to be asked," he noted, "One is what I will experience at the first test, and the other thing is how much it will develop from there to the beginning of the season and through the season. It's a question mark whether the tyres we have in Abu Dhabi will be the tyres that we start the season with - and continue the season with.
“But, yes, you get a quick read [about future potential] because you know what your car has been like with the Bridgestone tyres and then you understand quickly what it will be like with Pirelli tyres.”
After a difficult season, Schumacher enjoyed an upturn during the first day of action in Singapore - a circuit he has not raced at before - placing second fastest in the wet-dry opening session and remaining in the top ten in the later outing.
“It has been a lot of fun driving this track today, even in the dark," he reported, "It is my first time driving here in Singapore and I was curious to experience how it would be - and I have to say that I liked it. I had heard that the track is quite bumpy, but I didn't find that it was too much, just in one sector. The rest is pretty good and exciting.
"This morning, well actually early evening, when the conditions were mixed, we looked quite good whereas, in the later second practice, we seemed to struggle more. Let's see what we can do here tomorrow.”