Michael Schumacher has begun to show glimpses of his old self as the 2010 F1 season nears its end, and admits that he is happier now than at any point in his comeback.
The German attracted a lot of criticism following his decision to break a three-year retirement and rejoin former Benetton and Ferrari mentor Ross Brawn at Mercedes GP Petronas, but has turned in finishes of sixth, fourth and seventh since a torrid Singapore Grand Prix, and has shown himself to be more of a match for young team-mate Nico Rosberg, who blew him away at the start of the season.
While Rosberg is in no danger of being overhauled by Schumacher in the season finale at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit, the veteran is confident that he can produce any good result to end the season, even though he hadn't driven the spectacular layout before Friday's two practice sessions.
“I have my joy back again,” Schumacher told sport360
, "I'm a little more happy about how the car is going now, but I need a reasonable result for the year's end and, on top of that, we need to move forward with next year's car as soon as possible, to make sure that our ideas and decisions are in the right direction.”
After taking time to find his way around the Abu Dhabi venue, especially when night fell and the lights came on, Schumacher wound up eleventh fastest, one spot behind his team-mate.
"It is quite interesting to drive in the day/night conditions here and it makes this track special and the event fun," the 41-year noted, "The track itself was not too complicated to learn so, all in all, it was okay today. We did not really face any special issues so I really look forward to tomorrow's qualifying when I will try to get a good lap together to make it as far up on the grid as possible."
Schumacher, of course, is merely a sideshow in Abu Dhabi, with the world championship on the line and four drivers still having a mathematical chance of claiming the title. Having topped the standings on seven occasions, the German could be forgiven for not taking an interest in the race at the front of the field, but insists that he will be keeping an eye on developments between Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
“It's very unique, interesting and thrilling - even from my point of view - to watch the last race and see the outcome,” Schumacher claimed, “I know how these guys will feel, but they're professional and experienced and will be able to handle the situation. It's been an interesting championship with so many ups and downs, and I wouldn't bet on anyone.”
The German did, however, manage to point himself in the spotlight once the day's on-track action had ended - by missing the traditional end-of-term photograph organised by Bernie Ecclestone.
He was supposed to have joined his fellow drivers and key team personnel for the shoot, but is reported to have annoyed Ecclestone by neglecting to attend. SPEED.com
claimed to have spotted a denim short-wearing Schumacher at the Mercedes hospitality unit, but the German wasn't the only driver missing, with Bruno Senna detained in a stewards enquiry and Timo Glock having treatment for a foot injury.