Michael Schumacher is not noted for his interest in statistics or history, but he was the first to point out that in qualifying seventh for his comeback race, he repeated his feat of his debut at Spa with Jordan in 1991.
He had a very short Sunday, coasting to a halt after exiting the first corner, but the qualifying performance was enough to propel him into Benetton – and subsequent superstardom.
“It’s actually a funny situation,” he mused after qualifying. I mentioned at my first test I kind of feel as I’ve just started F1. In Valencia doing the first lap [see above picture!] I was a bit shocked, and doing the next laps I was straight back into it, and felt very comfortable. And it was exactly like it was in ’91, in a way. As well in ’91 in my first qualifying I finished seventh, so here we are!”
Asked if he felt any emotions on the eve of his comeback race, he wasn’t giving anything away: “I’m still sort of my frame of mind, and that’s very focussed, without having much of emotion. Just paying attention to details. It might be different in the night, when I’m sleeping. We’ll find out!”
Michael has appeared visibly frustrated at times this weekend, and certainly his car looked a little uncomfortably on the track. He’s been outpaced throughout by Nico Rosberg, and it’s clear that he’s still getting up to speed.
“Today [there were] several reasons for it, but one is pretty certainly just myself, I just have to get into it. I mean, we have had winter testing, first time here being in the heat, certain things do behave slightly different. I just need to get into the rhythm. Obviously slowly and progressively it has improved – but it’s challenging, and that’s a good thing.”
Asked whether that was a psychological thing – getting into the zone – Michael said: “It’s just having the rhythm, and having this fine tuning, and getting the car to you, and just making perfect use of what you have available.”
Intriguingly Michael suggested that the team has to adapt the car to his style. In the past he gave the world the impression that he could drive anything, although inevitably of course he led Ferrari’s development in a direction that suited him. The big question is how long it will take.
“That depends on how quickly they can change the car. Quite honesty there are certain principles that we are working on that we have understood, but obviously there is certain development, to create [parts] and build them there is a lead time. We have to find out.
“There’s a lots of potential to improve the car, and that’s what the main focus is at the moment, to just steadily get up there. It’s going to take a couple of races before we sort out all our issues that we are facing, and maximise the potential.”
So what of tomorrow? Like everyone else, Michael is intrigued to see how strategy will play out, but he doesn’t expect to see too much overtaking.
“I think it’s very difficult. There are two cars sticking out, two McLarens, they are very strong on straightline speed. Probably they have the best chance to overtake, if at all. For the rest, you lose too much at the last corner that you would not be able to recover down the straight, so you have to do it through the strategy, and at the start. That’s the two biggest options to move up.”
One element of the race he particularly singled out: “I think it’s going to be an interesting first corner, because with these heavy cars, and not much experience, and a new kind of routine, it’s going to be interesting. I look forward to that.”
After he’d talked to the media I went to say hello, and said that I hoped he didn’t have a race like he had in 1991. He just smiled…