Schumacher must win over the critics

If the jury is still out on Michael Schumacher's Formula One comeback with Mercedes, then the next two weekends of racing in Spain and Monaco may make a verdict easier to reach.

The seven-times world champion, returning at the age of 41 and after three years in retirement, has been outqualified and beaten in the first four races of the season by young fellow German Nico Rosberg.



In Australia in March the former Ferrari ace struggled to get past Toro Rosso's 20-year-old Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, who was racing at the Melbourne track for the first time, and ended up 10th.



After Schumacher retired in Malaysia and then just scraped a point in China with another 10th-place finish, some commentators were ready to write him off even if others refused to rush to judgement.



"People are going to say he's past it now, which he probably is," declared former great Stirling Moss, now in his 80s and convalescing after a fall down a lift shaft at home, after the last race in Shanghai.



Schumacher will be using a different chassis in Barcelona this weekend, the one he had in pre-season testing, and the car's wheelbase has been extended to allow for better weight distribution.



The German has probably put in more miles at the Spanish circuit than anywhere else over the years and won there six times, including four in a row from 2001 to 2004, during his golden years with Ferrari and Benetton.



He has also won five times at Monaco, which follows immediately after Spain. If he fails to shine there against his team mate, with a car tailored to his requirements, the questions will become even more pointed.



"After Monaco, we'll know how his form really is," Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber told the BBC last week. "He'll feel a bit more at home at Barcelona and Monaco.



"They're the sort of places, particularly Monaco, where you just plug Michael in and off he goes. If he's not going to be doing that this year, you can say he might be having problems coming to grips with the car."



Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn, who was Schumacher's technical director at Ferrari when the German won five titles in a row and most of his 91 race victories, remains convinced that the car and tyres are the main problems.



"He's trying to find his references and is trying to work out how to approach things," the Briton told Reuters in an interview after returning from China.



"Undoubtedly these tyres are a bit different to what he's used to and maybe, with the car and the tyres, it's not towards the way he likes to have a car, which is very responsive and very sharp.



"We haven't been able to provide him with that yet. To remove any doubt, we are going to run a different car in Barcelona, a different chassis. As always in these circumstances you get rid of the variables."



Brawn said before the season started that he saw the same old Schumacher, determined and remarkably fit, and that is still the case even if the competition is intense.



"Our step forward in Barcelona will be bigger than you can make at each race during the flyaways (long-haul races) but it would not be realistic to expect us to suddenly be competing right at the front," cautioned Schumacher on his personal website (http://www.michael-schumacher.de).



"I am hoping for a better race in Barcelona than I had in China and of course I would not mind having had better results so far.



"However the good news is that after three years away, I am feeling extremely motivated. So I am clearly ready to take this challenge."



The team's own post-race analysis showed that the veteran was getting closer and closer to 24-year-old Rosberg in performance. China, the track that brought Schumacher his last win in 2006, may have been just a blip.



By lengthening the wheelbase of the Mercedes, the team should be able to hand Schumacher a car that allows him to show off his talent while also giving Rosberg more flexibility.



The concern however remains that in the past, and particularly when he was in his early years in F1 and shortly after his move to a then under-performing Ferrari, Schumacher's great attribute was his ability to drive around problems and make a poor car look good.



It could be that Rosberg has excelled in taking the Mercedes to two successive podium finishes, but it could also be that the car is not that bad either. In which case, the problem is Schumacher.



Retired triple champion Jackie Stewart, who worried before the season started about how Schumacher would handle adversity after enjoying top billing at Ferrari, said he still had faith in the German rekindling the old fires.



"The fat lady is a long way from singing," he told reporters at Silverstone last week.



"You are going to see (Red Bull's Sebastian) Vettel winning races, the same from Webber, the same from Schumacher when he gets his new car built around him.



"I don't think he will win world championships but I do think he will be on podiums and I think he could win a race this year," added the Scot.



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition