Call it a sign of the times.
World champion Sebastian Vettel struggled to push through a media throng for a hit and giggle on St Kilda beach; 24 hours later, the man who inspired the Red Bull driver’s assault on the Formula One record books drew a crowd in single figures.
Looking every inch the man who ruled the sport imperiously in the early 2000s, Michael Schumacher chatted to media in the Albert Park paddock on the eve of his 18th full Formula One season.
The steely focus, gym-toned body and oversized watch were all holdovers from the old days, but the results of Schumacher’s second career have paled into insignificance when compared to the seven world titles and 91 race wins he accumulated by the end of 2006, his final year with Ferrari.
Now in the third and final season of a contract with Mercedes that brought him back to the sport in 2010, Schumacher has yet to even finish on the podium in his comeback, a feat he managed in every race back in 2002.
He’s competed in 40 Grands Prix since his last victory (China 2006), and almost 100 Grands Prix have been run and won without him spraying the champagne of victory.
But Schumacher insists that his return to the sport hasn’t been in vain.
“There is no particular statistic that I’m looking for,” the 43-year-old said.
“To be as successful as you can personally be within the limits of your car is what satisfies you, and that’s what I want to achieve.
“My enthusiasm doesn’t change. You come over here (to Australia) and you have a couple of days to acclimatise and maybe have a workout, and then you feel fresh because it’s a new season. You just feel excited and ready. It’s like a horse that you put for too long in a stable – it just wants to go.”
Schumacher, who once presented a trophy to Vettel when Seb was an aspiring karter, has remained close to Vettel and admits he wouldn’t be devastated if his protégé eclipsed his own F1 achievements.
“I’m very proud of him, and I like his success,” Schumacher said.
“I would be mostly happy (with Vettel breaking his records). My relationship with him hasn’t changed; that’s the good thing about straightforward people. They don’t really change no matter what happens, and that’s the case between us.”
Mercedes finished fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship, 210 points behind Ferrari in third and 92 points ahead of Renault (now Lotus) in fifth.
With Ferrari predicted to struggle in the early stages of the year and Mercedes showing well in pre-season testing, it’s little wonder that Schumacher’s eyes light up when you ask him about his chances this weekend.
“The field seems so condensed from what we try to analyse through the tests, so that’s extra excitement for everybody,” he said.
“I hope we’re going to be near the front of the pack rather than behind in it. But there is a wish, and there is a reality … and I’m looking forward to find out which it is over the weekend.”