Q & A with Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher begins the 2011 world championship season in buoyant mood after a positive end to pre-season testing for the much-improved Mercedes W02

Q & A with Michael Schumacher

Speaking ahead of the opening race in Melbourne this weekend, the 42-year-old spoke of his belief that Mercedes can chase Red Bull, why podiums and wins would be satisfy him despite a locker full of championship titles, and how this year should be a very different proposition to the last one. AUTOSPORT was there to hear what he had to say.

Q. What are your feelings for the weekend ahead

Michael Schumacher: I am looking forward to it after winter testing. Mercedes has done a huge step forward with this year's car, it is a very performance-orientated car and it has paid out. This weekend it is up to us to prove it, and we have a good opportunity to prove good things. Nevertheless we should not overestimate things, and see the truth - and that is that Red Bull Racing is most likely the team to be beaten.

Q. Will the fastest car still win with all the expected strategy?

MS: If everybody does the same mistakes then the fastest car will win, yes!

Q. If Red Bull is the fastest car, where do you think you are?

MS: I think we are going to play an important role just behind that. And whoever is behind that group, I see Ferrari, Renault look good, Williams look good, McLaren is not to be forgotten because I expect them to be stronger than they were in testing, and us - this is the pack that I see a good opportunity that we might be able to fight for that position to be the second fastest.

Q. So you expect to be racing for the podium?

MS: That is the nature of being behind Red Bull that you might be jumping on the podium.

Q. Are there too many rules this year?

MS: No. What is it? To have a rear wing available in the race only if you are within a certain situation, that is about it. I think it is not difficult for you or the television commentators to express that to the spectators and for them to understand. We have new tyres, there will be different strategies that could be applied due to that, but for us it is actually a fantastic tool that you can play with, to have KERS available, to have the rear wing available because those extra functions as a driver you can use to optimise the lap time.

Q. Do you think there is a safety issue with the adjustable rear wing and KERS?

MS: Absolutely not. If you see last year people running one-handed through Eau Rouge, and the same people now complaining of safety, I think it is a much safer rear wing by now to operate.

Q. How long does it take to get used to all the new stuff?

MS: We know already! That is why you do winter testing, that is not a big factor. I think those drivers who manage to enter F1 they are the best
guys around and they easily manage to push two buttons in the car.

Q. How would you rank this world title if you won it this year?

MS: I think this year our target and our realistic possibility would be to fight for podiums and if things go very well then maybe to win a race. Does this put us in a position to fight for the championship? No. You have to be careful with this one. I don't think we are yet ready prepared and developed for this. If it comes the opportunity we will be there and you can be sure we will try to catch it, but we will see step-by-step. Where we were last year, where can we be this year and play it realistically, not unrealistically.

Q. After not being on the podium last year, will that be enough for you or is winning all that matters?

MS: I expressed myself last year very clear and it hasn't changed. The most important is to fight for the championship at the time we are ready for it. To be on the podium would be great, but does it really change anything? No. What does change is if we can achieve our target to win a championship together with Mercedes. That is what I want to achieve and that is what I am here for and that is what we are fighting really hard for. Are we ready right now? No. Can we win a race? Maybe. Would it satisfy me? Absolutely, I would be thrilled about this, no doubt, and it is all about winning at the end of the day.

Q. What do you make of the sprinkler system idea?

MS: I don't have too many opinions about things that I don't think we do that this year. Let's talk about what we do and not that we maybe want to do.

Q. How much input did you have into this year's car? Did you do it with the same enthusiasm as in the 2000s?

MS: You can be sure about that! I think the main focus, and it has never been different, was to achieve the best performance car. I didn't care what characteristic came out of this one, but normally it is a car that is pretty sharp to be driven. Last year we had the opposite and for sure that is different for this year.

Q. If this season doesn't work as you hope, what about the final year of your contract?

MS: It will work out...

Q. How different do you feel compared to last year?

MS: That is the positive. I feel very good in terms of very clearly, when I arrived last year to the first race to the team, or even the first test and factory visit, and if I see that with the situation now, I just arrived, I know all the people, I know who to talk to, I know how to achieve what I am wanting to achieve, what switches to turn, and that has made a big difference. There was a three year break, new team and new rules - everything is in much more order. I am completely into the system and that is what is very noticeable to me.

Q. Do you have the same zip as in the 2000s?

MS: Fired up is the permanent development we have in F1, and clearly if you see where we are right now and how we arrived there, to now be in a position to fight for a podium, that is already a bit of an advantage and a big thrill, and with this I just know that it will come with time and if you work as we started last year at a much lower base than we anticipated, that is the big part I enjoy to constantly work up and build it up to a point of success.

Q. Where is Mercedes now compared to perfection Ferrari achieved?

MS: Life I believe you have to see it in chapters. There was the first chapter and now we are living in the second chapter of my part, that is with a clear ambition to win a championship together with Mercedes. Doesn't matter what percentage, to me it matters we have this progress of development. We want to make this work - it is all that is important to me.

Q. Norbert Haug has talked about extending your contract, what do you think?

MS: We will think about it when the time is ready for that.

Q. Would you be satisfied if someone else won the world championship in a Mercedes and not you?

MS: If that happened to be the case, then that is what it is. But I don't feel it will happen...

Q. How good is Nico Rosberg?

MS: Very good. I think Nico proved very well last year there is no doubt about this, it is going to be very tough for me but I am confident I can match him.

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