STUTTGART, Germany (Reuters) - Michael Schumacher batted off questions about his chequered past on Monday and said he was returning to Formula One with nothing to prove to anyone but himself.
The 41-year-old German bristled at a British reporter’s question when asked whether his comeback was to show that he could “win in the right way” after a career marked by controversy as much as unparalleled success.
“Sure, 91 victories and seven titles. You win only in a bad way,” he said witheringly at a presentation of the new Mercedes GP team that has taken over from champions Brawn. “Absolutely. You’re right, and I need to prove it now.
“Let’s be sensible and let’s think about the reality and look forward to what we might all face and enjoy and learn together,” he added. “That’s what I’m looking for.”
Schumacher, who was excluded from the 1997 championship classification for trying to ram Canadian Jacques Villeneuve off the track in the deciding race and who also triggered outrage after blocking rivals in qualifying for the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, kept his focus firmly on the challenge ahead.
“I have nothing to prove about my age or anything,” he declared in his first public appearance for Mercedes since announcing his comeback in December after three years out.
“I just have to prove to myself that I am still able but the main reason why I am doing this is because I feel again thrilled by it. I feel big excitement to just drive and compete at the highest level of motorsport.”
Team principal Ross Brawn, who masterminded all of Schumacher’s seven titles at Benetton and Ferrari, said the oldest man on the starting grid was remarkably fit and could handle anything the sport threw at him.
“I think first of all the raw talent doesn’t disappear,” he said. “What normally happens to drivers is that they lose the physical ability to compete and Formula One is a very physical sport.
“They lose the physical capacity and they also lose the determination that you need to compete at every race, every minute of the day, every lap on the circuit.
“What I saw with Michael was that he had been refreshed by his break,” continued Brawn.
“I think you saw today he’s looking incredibly fit, he looks far younger than his 41 years. So I don’t think the physical side is a problem.
Brawn said Schumacher, who made clear his impatience at having to wait until February 1 before he could start testing, had shown amazing determination and commitment already and could also draw on his unrivalled experience.
“Put all those elements together, he’s got a tremendous work ethic and he wouldn’t do this unless he was convinced that he can do the job. And I’m convinced he can do the job,” he said.
“I’ve seen already an amazing commitment that reminded me of the old Michael Schumacher.”
Brawn said the German was hitting the same parameters in training, in terms of stamina and strength, that he was achieving while at his peak at Ferrari.
“There is nothing in a racing car that wears out parts of your body, it’s just down to your stamina and strength,” he added. “So I fully expect Michael to be able to cope with any demands we make of him.”
Editing by Alison Wildey