The first day of the new season kicked off with a trip to a Mercedes dealership on a highway out of Bahrain’s capital Manama, to see Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
This was one of those occasions which was more interesting for what it looked like rather than what was said. It was a bit of a mess organisationally, with the principals over an hour late and then delayed further by a decision to do a TV scrum before the formal press conference, rather than the other way around. So by the end of it we had lost a whole morning and we didn’t get to the track until 12-30.
Anyway, Schumacher looked great; very fit and fresh. Look at his body language in my photo – it’s the classic legs wide, hands on hips stance of Henry VIII or George W Bush – the “I’m the boss here” message.
Alongside him Nico Rosberg looked well groomed and handsome, but you could sense his unease. He knew to expect the, “How can you beat this guy and what will it do to your career if you don’t?” questions, which duly came in.
He handled it quite well with lines like “I aim to look good in comparison with him, whatever that may mean,” but you can also see that he hasn’t yet worked out how to present himself in this situation. What role is he playing?
Most drivers have a clearly understood position and role they play this year; Schumacher is the returning champion, reigniting an old love affair with Mercedes, Alonso is the hungry champion starting a new love affair with Ferrari, Button is the reigning champion taking a very brave gamble by switching teams, Vettel the “man most likely to” and so on.
Rosberg is the guy who like the idea of taking on Button in a Mercedes, but then woke up one morning to find himself under a massive shadow. He’s had some good results in his four seasons in F1, but not enough and he’s not won anything yet. All he can build his persona on is that Ross Brawn really rates him.
So he has to tolerate being ignored by the throngs of media when he does a joint appearance with Schumacher, watch as the cameramen fall over each other to stick themselves with the great champion.
It takes the pressure off in a way, which is probably quite nice, but when the talking starts no-one is asking him positive questions.
The one revealing comment Rosberg made about the Mercedes car was that there is no fundamental imbalance there, it is just a question of aerodynamics, in other words the car is fine it just isn’t fast enough yet, because it lacks downforce. The team has a big update here this weekend so we will see where that puts them.
As for Schumacher he took a very simple line, “I’m back because I missed fighting the guys on the track, ” and you can believe him.
After he won the 2000 world championship for Ferrari, ending their 21 year drought, he said that he had fulifilled the obligation he felt to them and would now race for pleasure.
This time around that is more true than ever. He’s going out there to get some kicks from battles with Alonso and Hamilton because he missed racing and the fire had not gone out.
But this isn’t a vanity project and Mercedes is not a one year programme in his mind. I think he sees them getting stronger than the opposition over the course of this year and into next, so he probably fancies his chances of winning the title next year. He is here to enjoy himself first and foremost.
He got chippy when asked for his children’s thoughts on his decision to race again. My kids are off limits and you would all do well to remember that, was his stern line.
Don’t expect a charm offensive from him. He’s very professional and will meet his media obligations, but he’s not here to communicate, he’s here to race.