STUTTGART: Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher has been spending the Christmas and New Year holidays far from the motor racing circuits as he mulls his goals for 2003.
For the five-time world champion it has been more reindeer rides than racing cars in Norway, where Schumi has been enjoying the idyllic winter scenery with friends and family at his villa in snowy Trysil.
“We are having a wonderful time here, skiing a lot and also playing a lot of football,” he said.
On Friday, the German continues the celebrations with his 34th birthday. Then it will be time to set his sights on the new season which begins on March 9 in Melbourne.
Despite his five titles and 64 Grand Prix victories, Schumacher is hungry for more, with the next target clear: a sixth title to overtake motor racing legend Juan-Manuel Fangio in the all-time list.
Shortly before Christmas, Schumacher was at Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello to see what progress the Italian team is making in the car they are developing to replace the powerful F2002 which so dominated the rest of the field in 2002.
Schumacher was so in charge last season, he managed to wrap up the world championship in record time in the middle of July at Magny-Cours in France. There is little to suggest he and Ferrari will be overtaken by main rivals McLaren-Mercedes or BMW-Williams next season, but Schumacher warns against complacency.
At the beginning of the 1998 season, McLaren-Mercedes were the dominating force, but Ferrari were eventually able to close the gap, he points out.
“We managed to catch up then, that means the others could catch up with us now. And anything extra which we can get out can also be got out by the opposition,” he says.
“For that reason, we have to keep going to make sure that no-one else finds something which too much self-confidence stopped us from finding.
“It would be rather stupid if we were to be tempted to rest on our laurels. After all, experience has shown that things always fall off after peak periods. That will happen again.
“Of course we hope that we can put this off for as long as possible, and I naturally also hope that it won't happen in my time. In any case, our aim is quite clear: to keep this Ferrari era going for as long as possible.”
Schumacher said it was vital to keep on developing. It was no risk for Ferrari to replace the winning F2002 with a new model as they aim for a fifth successive constructors’ title and a fourth successive drivers’ title.
“If we wanted to take the risk, we could use the old car,” he said. “But we don’t want to take the risk. And we’re sure that the competition is more motivated than discouraged when it comes to catching up with us as quickly as possible.
“We’ve heard, for example, that at McLaren-Mercedes they’re doing something completely revolutionary, even though it won’t be ready for the beginning of the season.
“That’s why we too have to go to the limit of what is possible for us – because what we’ve already done is possible and can therefore also be done by the others. For that reason, we’re hoping for and working on another step forward.”
Ferrari have all the key figures such as team chief Jean Todt, technical director Ross Brawn, top designer Rory Byrne and engine chief Paolo Martinelli on board until 2004. And Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has told Schumacher he can drive for the team as long as he likes.
Schumacher has always said he will continue to race as long as he continues to have fun.
At Ferrari he has found what has become a second family, as the driver explains on his homepage.
“It’s really becoming more and more harmonious, more intensive, friendlier, more relaxed,” he says.
“With every year that you get to know each other better, you share more experiences, and these are now mainly positive experiences after all those difficult times in the years before. This makes people grow closer. It’s simply great to be a part of this family.” – dpa