Even the WSJ weighs in on Schumacher

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Michael Schumacher was/is, arguably, the biggest story of 2010. Aptly mentioned in F1B Podcast #157 by SJ Skid, the return of the king was the biggest story heading in to this season and remains as such due to amplification over a slew of uncharacteristically poor performances in the first four races.

Many F1 personnel and alumni have come tot eh defense of the 7-time world champion while others have been bold in the headline grabbing critique of the 41-year-old German. Arguments range from “it takes time” to ” he’s lost his skill and edge”. As we mention on our podcast, perhaps the bigger issue could be the PR handling (or mishandling) of the Schumacher return.

Secretly no one would have been surprised if the elder statesman of F1 showed up on the 2010 grid in the current championship car and team to dominate and win races from the beginning. Most, however, knew that this was not a realistic expectations and considered a ramp up period more likely as the former Ferrari ace has been out of the seat for three years.

The argument can be made that not only has he been off his mark but his teammate is squarely beating him and this had led to a slew of hypotheses and media coverage. Are we beating a dead horse with this story? Yes, we are. Is Schumacher still the biggest story of the 2010 season? Yes, he is. How do we know? Every conceivable media outlet has ran stories or posts about his current form and what can be done but you know you have reached critical mass when even the financial newspaper the Wall Street Journal runs a story on the situation.

The story is well done holistically speaking and does explore the issue for the novice to F1. I found the recap and tone to be more informative and less judgmental than many other stories I’ve read and thought you might like to see what even the financial sector is saying about the Mercedes GP driver and German F1 legend Michael Schumacher.

It appears cornering speed is where Schumacher most struggles and many have asked why a veteran of his caliber cannot come to grips with the car. It’s a good question but if you have followed F1 for some time and watched Schumacher drive, you’ll know that one of his main and most desirable skills is to carry cornering speed that no other drivers, save versus perhaps Fernando Alonso, can do.

Curiously, the key to catching up isn’t to make his car faster, but to stop it from losing speed when cornering, an area where Mr. Schumacher has struggled to match his rivals—and even his teammate—so far this season.

Schumacher is a master of braking late and carrying massive corner speed that would confound his rivals. It is his trademark on driving in current era F1. Teammate Nico Rosberg has a different driving style and it may not be as reliant on corner speed as Schumacher’s. Rosberg may be a point-and-squirt driver and the car may favor this style. Schumacher would struggle with any car that penalized the man who seeks massive corner speed and late braking with a serious case of understeer and balance issues.

How does Schumacher feel about his chances in the new chassis for Spain this weekend?

“The changes we’ve made to the car allow me a little bit more freedom to operate and set up the car that we didn’t have in the first three or four races,” Mr. Schumacher said. “Whether that will close the close the gap [to the other teams] or whether it stays consistent or opens, we have to find out.”

I agree with F1B’s Grace on this subject of mishandled PR from Mercedes GP. I believe that they should have corrected expectations, maintained their long-term reasoning for having Schumacher at the team and posited their undying support for their young German Rosberg and his current station as number two in the drivers championship. Schumacher’s brilliance takes time to mold and design the system around him

When moving to Ferrari it took four years to see the payoff of all the hard work and I suspect Mercedes GP will take some time to seize the moment, rid the car of those engineering boffins and deliver a competitive Schumacher. Will he win titles? I am not convinced of that but here again, Mercedes GP need to do a better job of laying out their PR strategy and re-setting the correct expectations.

Consumer perception is key and creating a strategy of control and measured responses with full-on support of the Rosberg achievements delivers a more palatable message and renders Schumacher naysayers a little less virulent in approach.

Perhaps most important is how Schumacher himself feels abotu his performance. No doubt he is not happy with his points and position so far this year but I think Schumacher, and his publicist Sabine Kehm, are doing the better job by playing down these niggles and performance gaps. They discuss them in terms of Schumacher and a methodical program to achieve. A challenge to overcome and it is done is managed, well-focused statements:

“Your ups and downs in sports, I think they are as normal as daily life: One day you wake up and feel great, the next day you wake up and feel maybe less great,” he said. “It’s not a perfect scenario but I see all this as a challenge and I like the challenge again.”

This positions the challenges, acknowledges their presence and set a longer time line for overcoming them with a sense of diligence and ardent passion. Mercedes GP keep making apologies for the lack of performance of Schumacher and suggest he should be back at the top any moment now. Why do this to yourself when you have a very capable young man in Rosberg second in the title race?

Schumacher is a big boy and knows that Rosberg is the man Mercedes GP needs to be cultivating. He knows that his program will either work or not in due time and in order to determine that, everyone must get on with the program. Wile the world is banging on about does he or don’t he have it anymore–you’ll forgive us for adding to the Schumacher press/blog frenzy by continuing to run opinion pieces discussing the topic. Like all other outlets, its a hard story to not talk about.

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