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Rivals resume title fight while 'Schumi" celebrates

Second half of the season start with a premise: all against Sebastian Vettel. The German leads comfortably the championship by at least 85 points (Webber in second).
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spa-francorchamps, Belgium, Aug 25, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - Formula One returns this weekend after an enforced summer holiday with the teams declaring themselves refreshed and Michael Schumacher hoping to mark the 20th anniversary of his debut in style.

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Schumacher, 42, veteran of 278 races and 91 wins since his first competitive appearance at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, has enjoyed a special relationship with the famous, old and challenging circuit.

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"For me it is hard to believe that I drove my first race at Spa now 20 years ago," he said.

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"So it is going to have a special touch to it this time for me. The place where I drove in F1 for the first time and it was the nearest to my family home."

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Schumacher claimed his maiden F1 win at Spa in 1992 and has revelled in racing there - winning six times in all - during his career of a record seven drivers' world titles and a catalogue of incidents.

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He added: "You know, a lot has changed in those 20 years, but one thing has not -- the track is still sensational. I just love the great nature of the location and the resulting layout with all the ups and downs.

"To me, Spa remains my 'living room', because it has been the stage for so many things which have been remarkable for my sporting career. This is why this time I would like specifically to send a big thank you to all my fans for their loyalty and support -- which I was happy to receive during those 20 years and also since my comeback.

"We are all returning from the summer break with fresh motivation and energy -- and will try to set an exclamation mark at the Belgian Grand Prix."

Schumacher's Mercedes team chief Norbert Haug said: "It will be a special weekend for Michael, who will mark the 20th anniversary of his F1 debut, which is an outstanding and remarkable achievement.

"The races at Spa have historically been full of surprises and the weather has mostly played a major role. The circuit should suit our current technical package a little bit better than was the case at the previous two races."

That said both Schumacher and his Mercedes team-mate compatriot Nico Rosberg, 26, know they face a massive challenge.
In-form McLaren and Ferrari both believe they have a car to triumph in the Belgian Ardennes, where the capricious micro-climate can produce rain at one part of the circuit and sunshine at another, while Red Bull will be bidding to retain their massive advantage in both the drivers' and the teams' title races.

McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh said: "This final stretch of European races will break the back of the calendar so it's important that we hit them aggressively and confidently before pushing on into the final flyaways.

"The whole team has returned to work feeling refreshed, relaxed and recharged, and I'm confident that we'll see the benefit of that at the racetrack: our engineers and strategists are hungry to get back to business, and our mechanics are fit and ready to continue the excellent progress they have been making all season.

"And despite winning three of the last five Grands Prix, we are still hugely determined to be stronger. Time and time again, this team has proved its resilience and determination, particularly at this crucial stage of the world championship."

Both McLaren drivers said they are bursting to race again.Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, said: "We go into the race weekend in a pretty good place - we've won the last two and the car feels strong.

"We've worked hard to improve the set-up, so it's really inspiring confidence at the moment, which means you can push it that little bit further, particularly in qualifying. Honestly, I can't wait."

Fellow-Briton and 2009 champion Jenson Button said: "It was great to go into the summer break off the back of the win in Hungary where I think we could just as well have won in the dry as in the damp - a factor to bear in mind for Spa. It's usually wet and dry and everything in between!"

One factor that may shake up expectations for the weekend is the respective teams' varying levels of tyre -wear, as Italian suppliers Pirelli believe the gap in performance between their compounds will be the biggest of the season so far.

"It's a long circuit and the difference is likely to be more than a second per lap - between the soft tyre and the harder one," said Pirelli chief Paul Hembrey.

That fear apparently does not worry Ferrari as team chief Stefano Domenicali believes that they are now ready to cope with anything as they bid to win every race and revive their title bid.

"Our realistic goal for the remaining eight races is to win, to score as many points as possible."

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