Will Gray

Tech Talk: Can Schumacher reignite his comeback?

Will Gray

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Michael
Schumacher's 2010 comeback was so woeful at times there were rumours of him
retiring if things did not go right in pre-2011 testing - so with Mercedes
apparently struggling can he turn things around?

Schumacher
has started the year airing surprisingly low expectations after the opening
testing runs in his new Mercedes W02 - saying from the start that he is
targeting only "a minimum of podiums and hopefully victories" and that he cannot
hope for more right now.

Mercedes,
however, have a major new upgrade coming before the opening race of the season
and that could spring a surprise performance level that their form so far has
hidden. If they do, Schumacher could be well-placed this year to make the most
of it.

PHYSICAL
AND MENTAL PREPARATION

In terms
of pure physical performance, few drivers match up to Michael Schumacher,
despite his age compared to the younger competition. He has always been at the
top level of fitness, and he has already stated that this is no different this
year to last.

What he
did appear to have last year was a surprisingly relaxed mental approach,
seeming to find it easy to run with the excuses firstly that he was rusty and
latterly that his car was off the lead pace and there was little he could do to
haul it up to the front.

He
appeared to recover the fire in the latter part of 2010, when he finally got
used to the car and was able to give team-mate Nico Rosberg the challenge
expected of him from day one. With that fire reignited, he should have that
determination to succeed back from the start.

IMPROVED
CAR BEHAVIOUR

The
biggest stated reason for Schumacher's lack of pace in 2010 was the lack of
grip from the front end of the Mercedes W01. This was partly due to the
Bridgestone tyres and partly due to the car's design - and both combined to
make life difficult for Schumacher.

Ross
Brawn explained recently that last year's machine suffered badly from mid-corner
understeer and if the set-up was changed to remove that, the car became too
skittish on entry for Schumacher to handle. This was particularly noticeable in
the slower corners - and with those taking longer to execute that is where
significant lap-time was lost.

This
year, not only have the new Pirelli front tyres been developed to be stronger
and give more precise input when driver turns in, but more importantly Mercedes
has improved the range of balance of their car between corner entry and mid
corner.

It
appears Schumacher is happy with the new approach, stating he was "totally
comfortable" after first test, and after the German managed 226 laps in the
Jerez test
, team boss Ross Brawn noted consistency of response to set-up
changes as one of the car's biggest plus points.

NEW
ENGINEERING INFLUENCE

While
little was mentioned of the relationship between Schumacher and his 2010 race
engineer Andrew Shovlin, the man behind Jenson Button's 2009 title victory with
Brawn, it is not insignificant that Schumacher now has a new man working with
him this year.

Shovlin
has been promoted to oversee both cars and Mark Slade, a former race engineer
at McLaren with Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen and most recently engineer to
Vitaly Petrov at Renault, has arrived to work with Schumacher directly in the
garage.

If
Schumacher struggles again with the car, the opportunity to think around
problems with a new brain alongside him and still have his old advisor on hand
could well help find solutions to some of the issues that Schumacher struggled
with last year.

Also,
2011 will see teams and drivers taking more varied strategic approaches to
races - and if the car is good enough to put Mercedes at the front then that
could be of benefit to Schumacher and Brawn, who have traditionally excelled in
that area.

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