INTERVIEW

Michael Schumacher

A year ago Michael Schumacher was a little-known Mercedes sportscar driver. He had won the German Formula 3 championship the previous year, but had moved into sportscars rather than progress into F3000.

Twelve months on, Michael can look back on a fairytale Grand Prix career. One race with Jordan where he qualified well but broke down on the first lap.A fortnight later he was at Benetton, in a front-running F1 car.

Today he is the most talked-about rising star of F1 and, in Mexico - his eighth Grand Prix - he scored his first podium finish, third behind the all-conquering Williams-Renaults.

"I didn't really expect it," says Michael. "We looked quite good during practice but we knew that it would be a hard race. Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna were quick in the warm-up and I knew with less fuel they would be even quicker."

In the race the young German started third, lost a place at the start but fought back to take fourth, moving to third when Ayrton Senna retired on lap 12. Thereafter he was able to drive a controlled race. It was a display of great maturity, pace and confidence.

"I began to have trouble with my right front tyre," he explained after the race, "but when Berger started pushing I could go quick enough to control his pace."

His success has been something of a surprise, if not to observers but to Michael himself.

"My opinion at the start of the year," he says, "was to finish as many races as possible and get experience - which I really need. But now the situation has changed a bit. I have surprised myself. I couldn't expect such a thing but I am quite happy about it but, you know, you should not expect too much. I am just doing my races and getting experience.

Michael has an easy style both in and out of his car. The pressures do not seem to affect him.

"It's not easy to do such work," he admits, "but it is not as difficult as some people might think. I can get in my car and do my lap without a problem. If there is a problem on the car I can drive around it. I can change myself quite a lot. The real reason why it is going so well is the work between me and the team. It is fantastic. Really fantastic. I never could have imagined that I could work with an F1 team as it is now. It is like in F3 I had a really good relationship with my engineer and all the members of the team. I would say that it is one of the biggest parts of our success.

"At the moment I don't feel the pressure. People expect too much. For me it is a situation which I don't like, but I have to get used to it. It's not a problem. What I really don't like is comparison. I am not the new Ayrton Senna. I am just Michael Schumacher. I'm not Senna."

Many young drivers have role models. Did Michael ever have an idol?

"I had one hero. It was in 1980. I was very young and was in go-karts. I went to a European championship race at Nivelles in Belgium and I saw a guy driving like crazy. I looked at the paper and saw it was Ayrton Senna.

"He was a bit of a favorite of mine, but I didn't really follow his career. Then one day I heard he was doing F1.

When Senna is driving he has an effortlessness about him. Schumacher is the same. How does he managed to maintain that kind of calm?

"I prepared myself quite well over the winter." he says. "I do a lot of exercises. My programme is about three or four hours a day. I think I am quite fit for my job, and you need to be. I am not afraid about the work I have to do. Yes, I have a lot of confidence, and it is particularly with the team. When you start in a team first you have to get the teamwork and then you get something from them. That is what happened. I think that our success is because it is really a good and well-managed team."

The Benetton-Ford B191B is a very good car, no question of that, but up against the Williams-Renaults it does have the same technology. At least, not yet.

"There is no question that the active suspension is very different from passive. I knew that from my time at Mercedes. It is a lot quicker. The reason we are looking so good now is that we have a fantastic package. The V8 is really light and the car is reliable and easy to work on. If we were to have a V12 on a circuit like this it would be harder."

For Benetton this is just the start of what is, fundamentally a new technical structure. There is a new car coming in Barcelona and a Ford V12 engine which will be tested in preparation for the 1993 season. At the moment the Benetton looks like it is a package which might win races. Does Michael think he has a chance to win his first race this year?

"I hope to finish as many races as possible," he smiles.

But doe she dream of winning a race this year?

"No. I am a realistic man," he says. "I don't dream about this. That is something for the future. It's a bit too early to say."

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