The deafening roar of F1 exhausts will be dominating the spectacular Sakhir circuit in Bahrain this weekend as the tiny Emirate in the Persian Gulf hosts the opening round of what promises to be an electrifying first round of the 2010 world championship.
The biggest talking point, naturally, is the return of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and how he will shape up against the front-running opposition, most notably the all-Brit McLaren line-up of 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton and reigning champion Jenson Button. This is how Schuey’s main rivals see it panning out…
“Well, I think it’s going to be a very open championship. Consistency is going to be very important as there are so many strong competitors, all capable of taking wins and points off each other. Of course, it will be particularly satisfying for me to go up against Michael as I did not come into F1 until the season after he stopped racing for Ferrari, so I have never had the opportunity of racing against him. But I have always known that he is a formidable competitor and the only way to beat him – and, indeed, the rest of the front runners – is to push all the time and keep the pressure on.”
“I wondered to start with whether Michael might have bitten off more than he could chew but, having watched him in testing, he’s obviously totally committed and it will be great to have the opportunity of racing him again. You only need to be a casual fan to know that having four world champions – including Michael – on the grid this year is a fascinating prospect. All I can say is that I hope our car is better than his. I followed the Mercedes at one of the tests and it seemed to be locking wheels occasionally but, as I know to my benefit, they are not a team to be ignored.”
“Michael is a tough, strong driver and you’ve got to face him down. For sure, it was sometimes very tense when you were battling with him at the front of the field because he never gave an inch and you never expected him to. Everybody will be wanting to beat Michael – the entire grid, not just the guys at the front. It’s going to be a great fight, because Mercedes are a really top-line team and I am sure that Michael has not lost any of his competitive edge.”
“Well, of course, for me there is a certain poignancy about going up against Michael because, originally, he was going to make his F1 comeback last summer standing in for me in the Ferrari team after I had my accident at Budapest. And, of course, he was my Ferrari team-mate before he stopped racing at the end of 2006. I am delighted he is back and I won’t be underestimating him. Beating Michael will be very difficult, but I feel confident because he taught me a lot when we were driving together.”
“In a sense, this is going to be an inspirational season for me – to be paired with a seven-time world champion. You can always learn from watching people in this business and you could say, as his team-mate, I will be closer than anyone when it comes to watching how he works and what he’s doing. Having absolute parity of equipment is also going to be very important in trying to beat Michael, of course, but I have absolutely no doubts about Mercedes’ commitment to that. Yes, I believe in my own capabilities and believe I can beat him."
“You’ve got to be prepared to race someone like Michael from the front. Obviously, it will be great to have Michael on the grid because of his name and reputation, but my goals for 2010 are not simply to be the best German driver on the grid, but to be world champion. I want to beat every other driver on the grid, so if I can be world champion, it means that I have successfully done that. We had a strong car at Red Bull last year and I’m confident that we will be in the same position from the start of the new year.”