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Schumacher comes full circle with Mercedes

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Sarah Holt | 15:11 UK time, Monday, 25 January 2010

Stuttgart shimmered as Mercedes re-launched their famous "Silver Arrows" back into Formula 1 and, for the first time since announcing his own dramatic return, Michael Schumacher faced the media in the flesh.

The snow-laden skies and snaking autobahns of the southern German city were mirrored by the metallic grey of the imposing Mercedes-Benz Museum where the launch was held.

A homage to Mercedes' motoring prowess, with eight floors packed to the rafters with historic cars, the museum - where past and present merge - was the perfect setting to mark the reuniting of the famous German manufacturer with the legendary German driver.

But despite the hype of a match made in heaven, the 2010 F1 season will not be the first time Schumacher has raced for Mercedes.

Twenty years ago, the future seven-time world champion was given his first taste of professional elite racing in the company's team in the world sportscar championship.

Michael Schumacher in a Mercedes Group C sportscar in 1991Schumacher's top-flight racing career started with Mercedes in sportscars in 1991...

"There is some story of myself in here already," a coolly confident Schumacher explained. "It is from the early Nineties. I started my racing career with the three-pointed star on my helmet. Naturally, we look forward to closing the loop in the future."

Schumacher's relationship with Mercedes was key to his development on and off the track in those early days.

As Schumacher's personal website explains: "Mercedes not only taught him how to handle a powerful racing car. The young drivers were also taught how to deal with the press, the engineers, the sponsors, how to behave at a gala dinner and to communicate in English."

In 1991, Mercedes invested further in their protégé by funding Schumacher's F1 debut with Jordan at the Belgian Grand Prix.

By the next race in Italy, the German, who had stunned onlookers by qualifying seventh on his debut, had signed for Benetton and his F1 journey had begun.

In the intervening years, Mercedes kept an eye on Schumacher from afar as they strengthened their commitment to F1, first as engine partner to Sauber and McLaren before buying a 40% stake in McLaren in 1999.

At various points in Schumacher's career, former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis tried to sign him but Mercedes have had to wait until now to get their own team - and their man.

"The only reason I came back was because of old friends at Mercedes," Schumacher said when he announced his surprise comeback just before Christmas. "I spent years trying to get into F1 with Mercedes but it wasn't possible before."

Now the dream has been realised, Schumacher appeared to be taking it in his stride and sat in typical pose with arms folded and head held high as he tackled an F1 media barrage for the first time in three years.

Michael Schumacher poses with a 2009 Brawn car in Mercedes's 2010 colours at the German marque's F1 launch in Stuttgart>... and has now come full circle with his return to F1 with the marque 20 years later

In fact, despite his apparent comfort, Schumacher admitted that he was still getting used to his new circumstances - and he wasn't just referring to the fact that he was no longer a retired racing driver.

"It is a little strange (not to be wearing red)," smiled Schumacher, who won five titles during his 11 years with Ferrari. "Red is part of my history and you cannot deny those good moments.

"To be reinstated with the Silver Arrows team is very emotional. I'm always focused, motivated and determined - and that is no less here than it was at Ferrari."

It may seem like three long years away from F1 for Schumacher, but Mercedes have had to wait 55 years to return to F1 with their own race team.

After dominating what was then called the European Championship in the 1930s, Mercedes repeated the feat in two brief seasons in the F1 world championship in 1954 and 1955, when the great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio claimed back-to-back drivers' crowns for the German marque.

Mercedes pulled out of F1 at the end of 1955 after Pierre Levegh's Mercedes ploughed into the crowd at the Le Mans 24-hour sports car race, killing 80 spectators.

The German company did not race in F1 for 38 years, returning first as an engine supplier to the Swiss Sauber team in 1993 before striking an engine deal with McLaren in 1995, which ultimately saw them power Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton to three world titles.

But it has taken until now for Mercedes to come full circle in F1.

At the end of last year they bought a 75.1% stake in Brawn Grand Prix, who handily had won both the championships that season.

"With the presentation of the new Mercedes GP team a new and certainly the most important chapter of more than 100 years of motorsport history begins," Mercedes motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug said.

In the confines of the Mercedes-Benz museum, the sense of uncertainty about just what this new beginning will bring for both Schumacher and Mercedes was an inescapable preoccupation.

Neither Mercedes or Schumacher want to live off their former glories. Mercedes made their intentions clear by buying Brawn at a time of economic crisis when several car manufacturers have scurried away from the financial burdens of F1.

Schumacher has literally put his neck on the line by returning to F1 at the age of 41 when he has nothing left to prove. So there is a sense that this gamble on future reward must pay off.

"We have everything it takes to be world champions," said Schumacher. "But it's one thing to have all the ingredients to make a nice meal and another to have a good result.
"There is only one thing to target and a mission to achieve it.

"There is a story of myself already (in the museum) but to have cars that we have driven in here will be a stamp of success on those new Mercedes cars."

Mercedes have a lot to live up to - in the '30s and '50s their famous Silver Arrows operated in a class above their rivals, as did the C11 and C291 sportscars that Schumacher drove for Mercedes in 1990 and 1991 before his F1 adventure began.

"There was some dominance," agreed Haug. "But it is probably no longer possible to achieve that; it's hard to imagine how to be dominant for a whole season.

"The A-class Mercedes road car is the best one in the field and we will try to do the same with F1 even though it is a bigger task in terms of competition.

"You will not win with gambles and this is not a gamble. This is just hard work to beat our opposition and that is our aim. We have been successful in the past and we want to go back in that direction."

In Stuttgart, Mercedes chose to unveil a 2009 Brawn decked out in silver and turquoise livery rather than wait for the 2010 car to be ready.

It was a statement of intent to their rivals. They wanted to be the first team to launch in 2010 and they want to be the first team at the end of the season too.

After three years for Schumacher and 55 for Mercedes, both must endure another 10 months of waiting to find out whether their mutual comeback will pay off.


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