- Auto Racing - F1 champ warming up to fans

Wednesday, January 31
F1 champ warming up to fans

MARANELLO, Italy -- Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher says he is "not a movie star" and has the same emotions as other people.

Speaking to reporters after the unveiling of Ferrari's F2001 car on Monday, Schumacher dismissed a suggestion that he had learnt to be emotional last season from Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello.

"I am not a movie star, either things come naturally or they don't. You can't "learn" emotions," said Schumacher.

The German had failed until last year to establish a strong rapport with the Italian fans who follow him and the team around the world.

But the title success and the public tears which followed his win at Monza in September helped to soften the image of a driver sometimes seen as cold and aloof.

Before that, Barrichello had cried openly on the podium when he took the first grand prix victory of his career in Germany last July.

Schumacher said that he had always had emotions "even if they were not always visible.

"Believe me I've cried before but you didn't see me and I've laughed before but you didn't see me," said Schumacher.

"I have blood inside me. I am a human as well, there is just a different level where it happens."

His decision to address the assembled fans in Italian at Monday's launch, rather than rely on translation as he has in the past, was also well received.

While Schumacher rejected suggestions that he has made a conscious effort to change his image, the average Italian's view of him has altered since the tears at Monza.

Although his Italian is restricted to scripted speeches, Schumacher now uses many more words and phrases that have resonance with Italian supporters.

He talks of "beautiful moments," "great emotions" and acknowledges the support of the "tifosi" as well as his family.

The German was also quick to dismiss any talk that having ended Ferrari's 21 year barren spell in the driver's championship that he would lack the desire to win again.

"I am a natural. I want to be at the limit and there is still a lot of joy for me in driving.

"I can't say I am more motivated because that is impossible but the weight is off our shoulders and the motivation now is to constantly improve," said Schumacher.

He said he felt "fresh" and "fit" and team director Jean Todt said the German had pestered him to begin driving in December as he recovered from the removal of a pin inserted in his leg after a crash at Silverstone in 1999.

"His drug is driving," said Todt, "In December he was trying to convince me to let him start driving. Until he is not cured of this 'drug' he will always be the same."

The 32-year-old was reluctant to talk about the long-term future but said he will know when the time has come to quit.

"We will find out. I will continue as long as I feel I am on a high. If young drivers come along and beat me then I will stop but first they have to do it."

He said that he had produced his best ever performance at Suzuka, where he clinched the title: "That was a perfect race. Suzuka was my best race ever. I have never seen myself so precise. The stakes were high and we needed it."