For the most part, Murray Walker and Martin Brundle ARE the British F1 media for all but hard core followers of the sport so if they say he's a nice bloke to chat with, nobody will doubt that. After that, you'll find a mix of views from journalists about him and very few will have unpleasant things to say about Michael the man so I genuinely have no idea where that 'certain picture' comes from. I do know where the fans get it, and it's because they see him turn Brundle away on grid walks, and an otherwise private man who shunned the spotlight as much as his fame would let him. Brundle understands this situation is contractually driven and has said so on many occasions, but of course many will see that as arrogance.
Second point is that none of the numbers you've seen from Michael bode anything. They just tell us that on a track at any given time he can be consistent with those tyres in last years car. I'd even say that Q3 isn't quite such a big deal either because DRS will allow a car in fast race trim get past someone who qualifies well BUT does add risk, as we saw last year.
I actually see the media thing as working the other way round in the UK - most of the people I know that I talk to about F1 aren't really fans of the sport, but they have an awareness of it and will sometimes watch some if it is on - much the same as my approach to football. They certainly wouldn't take the time to watch Murray Walker talking about his favourite drivers/
It seems to me that much of what they know comes from the written press - generally tabloids. I'm sure you're aware of the way papers like The Sun, The Mirror, The Mail etc have represented Michael over the years - I have no problem with them being critical of him when he has behaved badly, but then that has spilt over into a generally negative view of him as a person and that stuck. This was especially the case in the '90s. I generally attribute that to the fact he is German, and beat the Brit. The UK tabloid press know their market and wrote about him accordingly. And before anyone mentions it, I know at times he did himself no favours, but at times the personal criticism I saw levelled at him by the sports writers of those papers was pretty cheap.
An example of something I saw in The Mirror a few years back - this isn't verbatim, but you get the gist...
Ralf Schumacher has BLASTED his brother Michael for trying to KILL HIM after the older Schumacher overtook him on the last lap of the Monaco Grand Prix...
Readers comments - Cheating German ****, Scummy Schumi, Cheating B*stard at it again... etc...
Yeah he's been a bit cheaty once or twice in his career, but he's actually quite a nice chap. The tabloid press where most people form their view of sports don't separate the two.
Regards testing - you are right. I was looking for some optimism from Peter Windsors quotes amongst my general view that next year will be much the same as the past 2 years but yes, you are quite right, it signifies nothing at all.