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.



Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks