Schumacher under fire: rumor has Kubica replacing him, Hamilton says he’s old

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Valencia is turning into a weekend that Michael Schumacher might want to forget. If England beats Germany in their World Cup match, well, that should seal it.

First off, of course, the Mercedes driver qualified just 15th today for the European Grand Prix. That report is here, and more importantly, the team’s explanation is here.

But I want to look off track, where things are every bit as bad for the seven-time champ.

The biggest rumor/issue is this:

Reports in the Italian media suggest that Renault star Robert Kubica has been offered a drive with Mercedes for 2011. The story suggests that the Pole would replace Michael Schumacher, even though the seven-time champion signed a three-year deal for his return to the sport this year.

The original story ran in omnicorse.it. All the translations and summaries I’ve seen have looked much as the BBC, above, treated it. The link is worth going to just for the picture of Kubica, though. Absolutely perfect for the story.

I don’t know how you unpack that rumor. Yes, Kubica has done terrifically this season, and Schumacher has clearly had some troubles. Even he’s admitting that this weekend, especially regarding the slick tires. But how will Schumacher and Mercedes save face in letting him go / firing him / quitting early?

Plus, there’s the whole Sebastian Vettel issue. Is Mercedes giving up on getting its next young German? Does it figure that Red Bull is looking so strong that Vettel will stay with that team for a while? Has it given up on him?

I note the rumor because it is moving into the mainstream press. Not sure what that means, but the last one in F1 to make this transition was Pat Fry to Ferrari a few weeks ago. Fry starts at Ferrari at the end of next week.

The Guardian has a Mercedes spokesperson responding to the rumor: “We can confirm that there is absolutely no truth in this report.”

Admittedly, that’s different than how Ferrari responded to the Fry rumor, which was much more a “we’ve got nothing to say about that” response.

Speaking of that Guardian piece, there also is this quote from Lewis Hamilton:

“I didn’t expect anything from him at the beginning. There was an occasion when I saw him before the season started and I kind of thought his commitment was the same as mine at the time.

“After that he was pushing like crazy and he still is today. His commitment is the same as always but it is so challenging. It is very difficult to out-do the youngsters that have the hunger that he had when he started.”

The Guardian and the BBC have spun that to mean that Hamilton is saying Schumacher is “too old.” He never actually says that, I don’t think, but I can see where that would be how some (anti-Schumacher) media would take it.

Either way, it is a pretty cutting comment from Hamilton, especially in this day when drivers pretty rarely say something extremely juicy about the competition.

Does anyone want to say this is a make-or-break weekend for Schumacher? How might he gracefully exit the team? And how ticked off will Nick Heidfeld be if his old BMW team mate keeps him from an F1 seat?

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