MELBOURNE, Australia — At 42 and after an inglorious return to Formula One last year, Michael Schumacher is back for another season. What’s more, he and his Mercedes team could be in the mix for the championship in 2011.
Schumacher came out of retirement after three years to join Mercedes last season. He finished ninth in the standings, without a single top-three finish.
But now, after an impressive winter of testing and the season to open Sunday at the Australian Grand Prix, the seven-time champion may soon get a taste of the glory that drew him back to the sport he ruled for so long.
Schumacher struggled to adapt to the durable Bridgestone tires in his return to racing. The 42-year-old German said Thursday he hopes to drive better with the more degradable Pirelli rubber introduced this year.
“What’s most important is what I want to prove to myself,” he said. “Whether it was only the tire. Whether it was me after three years out, not knowing all the switches and positions, and what I had to do to make the whole package work together, I don’t know. I just know that now I do feel it and I’m back on it.”
Red Bull’s Mark Webber was quick to identify Mercedes as a force this season.
“Mercedes have had a good finish to the winter testing and they’re going to be winning some races for sure this year,” Webber said. “They’ve shown good reliability, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t challenge for the title along with Ferrari and McLaren.”
“The car’s improved, to our predictions,” Schumacher said. “We knew we weren’t on the pace for the first tests, but we were focusing on a particular package. … It was only in the last tests that we were able to see that everything works out.”
Tires aren’t the only changes to F1 that Schumacher has had to adapt to since making his debut with Jordan in 1991.
“In the time that I’ve been racing I’ve gone through many different development phases,” he said.
“From the very standard days of manual gear shifting when I started, there has been the days of active suspension, traction control, ABS and so on. And there have been all the electronics you can adjust on the on the steering wheel. … Now we have this year (adjustable) rear wings and KERS. I can only say that anything that makes me go quicker, and I can adapt and adjust in the car, th at’s what I like.”
Now Schumacher is looking forward to ending the speculation and seeing exactly what the new car and new tires can do in Sunday’s race.
“We get on with it this weekend and see what is the reality,” he said. “Testing is one thing and racing is another thing.
“Afterwards we can go into details and analyze them, and see if it was for the good, and work out what really happened. There’s too much talking at the moment.”