What do you get when you align a press conference featuring seven-time FIA Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher, Bridgestone director of motorsport Hiroshi Yasukawa and fans present for Indianapolis Motor Speedway's unique Pit Walkabout...
What do you get when you align a press conference featuring seven-time FIA Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher, Bridgestone director of motorsport Hiroshi Yasukawa and fans present for Indianapolis Motor Speedway's unique Pit Walkabout on a sunny Thursday morning?
Schumacher, who capped his best result of the season last weekend in Canada, finishing second to winner Kimi Raikkonen, recognizes that this season presents added challenges as he seeks title #8.
"There are different challenges this season under the current regulations," Schumacher noted. "We're often further back on the grid than we'd like to be but, competitive as we are we still have the speed. We just don't get it right all the time, especially in qualifying. That brings us into the predicament we've got to get out of."
With the higher level of competition this year in F1, Schumacher and his Bridgestone-clad Ferrari 2005 lack the overwhelming superiority they've had over the past few seasons. As one of only three teams using the Japanese makers rubber, Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello are clawing for points and have not yet visited Victory Lane this season.
"We've been winning now for five or six years and accept that someone else is doing a better job. Can we come back? There is no doubt in my mind," Schumacher declared. "the climate has changed big-time and there's a demand for testing and development of our Bridgestone tires," he alluded. "Where once we set the car up for 20km stints, we are now having to prepare for a 300km race without tire changes." It's a very different playing ground indeed.
Yasukawa recognized the need to produce "a consistent tire for 250 miles- plus, "but it is safety that is important to us primarily. These are new challenges, obviously." While one would think Yasukawa and Bridgestone would do better with the added data of more than Ferrari, Minardi and Jordan onboard, the firm would only accept one or two added squads to its Formula One lineup, he indicated.
Schumacher is coming into the US Grand Prix as a three-time victor and intends to further that streak come Sunday. Eliciting huge cheers from the crowd he said he "desperately wants to win. We are working to improve the car and the tires and see if the situation brings the ball into our court. There's a very fine line to walk between being competitive" and going over the edge.
Asked by the crowd if he believes the season is too long at 19 races in 2005, Schumacher demurred. "The season," he noted, "is long whether there are 15 or 19 or even 20 races per year because we test constantly. Of course I prefer to race than test (screams of joy from crowd).
His future plans have come under great scrutiny as Schumacher is now 36 years old, somewhat elderly from the F1 point of view. "I'll keep on racing and will continue as long as I enjoy the sport and am competitive. The first championship I won with Ferrari was the main thing [to accomplish] and after that they've been like a present."
Asked what athletes in other sports he admires, Schumacher immediately reminded all of his passion for soccer then segued to speak of Lance Armstrong, who is attempting to win the Tour du France for the sixth consecutive year. "I think I understand his dedication, preparation and motivation," Schumacher noted.
Of the new Formula One qualifying system, Schumacher shrugged his shoulders and replied, "I enjoyed the system we had in the past; it was always thrilling for those last five minutes but you can never keep everyone happy. Someone will always complain," he replied.
The most physically challenging circuits where Schumacher competes are those in Malaysia, where the "G forces and heat can be oppressive and Monte Carlo, which is very demanding on both the mental and physical sides."
As long as he is mathematically in the championship, which is not over at this point, Schumacher will keep plugging along, attempting perhaps to take a total of ten titles before he retires? After that, who knows? Schumacher has no inclination to try other series or to engage in management a la Jean Todt, Ferrari team director.
Traveling through the United States and Canada is a thrill for Schumacher and his family. Prior to the Canadian Grand Prix they engaged in some horseback riding (his wife's passion) and between Canada and this race they traveled a riverbank tour between Nashville and Indianapolis, for the most part incognito. "This country has so many beautiful places and I love the opportunity to see it."
Another passion for the World Champion is motorbikes and he tries to ride whenever possible - on a Harley. "It feels so free and not binding," Schumacher acknowledged. "It feels like flying on the ground."
Following the question-and-answer period Michael Schumacher did the crowd a great service and gathered at the fences to sign whatever they proffered. It was an unusual occurrence but one Schumacher has done each time he's come to the USA.