THE elder statesman in Formula One, one of the greatest ever is going through another barren period in his failed comeback. If some say Kenny Dalglish’s second return to the Liverpool FC dugout was unsuccessful, as he was sacked this week, what does this say about Michael Schumacher’s return.
Statistics can sometimes make viewpoints ridiculous but these facts don’t lie. Two and a half years into his return and it reads; no wins, no pole positions, only twice in the top three in qualifying, no podiums and a series of desperate crashes which indicate that reactions are getting slower and speed is being lost. True, form is temporary and class is permanent but Schumacher has shown evidently little in his return and after five races in 2012, he sits a dismal 18th in the championship, with three non-finishes and just two points to show for his efforts. This is Schumacher’s worst start to a Formula One season and there will be those in the paddock will be questioning his motivation to continue.
The second Michael Schumacher certainly is a lot more relaxed than the first version and there can be no doubt that there is some enjoyment in him competing. However he isn’t delivering the results expected and no excuses about the car in 2012 should be allowed. The Mercedes was the class of the field in China, as shown by new race winner Nico Rosberg. The team probably aren’t getting the full potential out of the chassis at the moment but whereas Rosberg has finished fifth and seventh in the last two events, Michael has only managed a fortunate tenth and another DNF in Barcelona last weekend.
In their previous two years at Mercedes together, it was notable that Rosberg had been comprehensively outperformed by Schumacher at the Circuit de Catalunya, with Michael achieving fourth and sixth place finishes in that time. The tables were turned last week and his performance was simply forgettable. He only just scraped into Q3, lagged behind Rosberg on raceday and then had a clumsy accident with Bruno Senna which ended his race after just 13 laps.
The incident occured entering turn one, as the Mercedes had a great run on the Brazilian’s tyre-hungry Williams. At the braking zone, Senna moved but only slightly to the inside to protect his line. Despite having not pitted, this was a battle for position. Schumacher completely misjudged his braking point and smashed into him. It was an error you’d expect to see a rookie driver make, not a seven-time world champion. A five place grid penalty for Monaco next weekend is deserved and with Monte Carlo being so difficult to overtake on, his chances can’t be that good to improve on his points score. What made me laugh even more was the way he called Senna an ‘idiot,’ over the radio. Those with small memories should remember Adelaide, Jerez, Hungary 2010 when he tried to put ex-team-mate Rubens Barrichello in the pitwall. You have to admit your mistakes or you don’t improve as a driver and these are testing times for the German, who might have produced some masterstrokes in the Ferrari days but is only tainting his own reputation and status as one of the greats.
While panic stations shouldn’t be alerted now and others like Felipe Massa could be only one race away from the sack, attention must turn to 2013 and what the Mercedes GP board do. Schumacher’s contract expires at the end of the season and I think he has an intention to carry on. Ross Brawn wasn’t present in Barcelona but he won’t want more performances like this from an experienced head. Ross has got a tough decision to make, especially considering the success the pair have had at Benetton and Ferrari together. Loyalty is a big commodity to have but how far can you go? Rosberg has a long-term deal, is now a race winner and looks extremely settled and Mercedes will want a second driver who can deliver the goods on a regular basis. I’m afraid Schumacher isn’t ticking this box at the moment.
Who should Mercedes go for then? Lewis Hamilton is believed to be stalling on a new deal at McLaren, works closely with Mercedes anyways and has a great relationship with Rosberg. There’s Paul di Resta who is producing consistent performances again at Force India and is groomed by Mercedes through his successful DTM days. Although he has struggled initially in 2012, Nico Hulkenberg is German and would fit well into the marketplace, plus he has talent. Jaime Alguersuari is Pirelli test driver and would bring lots of tyre knowledge to the team for next season and although there are grave uncertainties about his full fitness, a Rosberg/Robert Kubica partnership would be dynamic, considering the Pole is out of contract now following his injuries in the past couple of seasons. There are options and Schumacher’s future looks like being an integral part of the 2013 drivers market.
I hope we see more of the best from Michael Schumacher and there have been gradual improvements, particularly in qualifying performance but there are too many troughs and issues to iron out. He might love his racing for sure but I don’t think that is going to be enough to keep him in a drive with Mercedes GP next season, unless he starts scoring points regularly and matches what Rosberg can do. It is time for Michael to step up and answer those doubters and Monaco is the perfect place to begin a fightback in his fortunes, both in the short and long term.