Schumacher’s down again, down again F1 return

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It seems that many people are talking about Michael Schumacher and his return to F1. Television ratings are up, attendance at races is up and the performance of his teammate, Nico Rosberg, is up. In fact, just about everything is up except positive press and Schumacher himself.

This has created a lot of speculation and news stories ranging from “he is re-learning the formula” to “he will quit before the year ends”. That’s to be understood given the gravity the 7-time champion brings to the sport. It’s also understandable that people want to know why Schumacher isn’t at the sharp end of the grid like he was before.

Talk, in general, is just talk. This Op-Ed is merely talk–nothing more. In reality Schumacher is becoming re-accustomed to a sport he left over three years ago. That takes time without an abundance of testing.

Wait…they say. If he was the master of overcoming adversity in cars that were not quite right, then why the struggle? Nico isn’t struggling (That’s a good point and question).

It’s clear that Schumacher is not in the best car on the grid. The Mercedes is close but not quite there yet.

Wait…if he was supposed to be that good and you deny that he just had the best car while at Ferrari, then why is his teammate beating him and placing the Mercedes much higher on the grid? (Another good question).

Schumacher is learning a new team with new people and new ways of working together.

Wait…It’s Ross Brawn’s team and Nico Rosberg is new to the program as well. He seems to have no trouble getting things sorted (Good point).

In short, I don’t have the answers to why Schumacher is not beating Rosberg or placing higher on the grid. I submit that most people pontificating the Germans early demise or questioning his skills, at 41 yeas-old, (some question if they were ever there at all) haven’t the slightest idea why either.

Even Speed TV’s new pit lane reporter Will Buxton, hardly an F1 ingenue, took a swipe at Schumacher during the live broadcast sending veteran commentator Bob Varsha into silence. Buxton came across as a Lewis Hamilton fanboi of epic proportions but eventually Varsha tempered the situation by quoting Schumacher’s press conference utterances from early in the week. Yes, even the Hobbsian Lexicon failed to find an appropriate word for the occasion.

The F1 fans who despise the German champion are no doubt smirking at his current misfortune. The F1 fans who count Schumacher as one of their favorites, this author included, are failing to find the humor or logic in both the vitriol and denigrating stories in the press but equally we fail to understand Schumacher’s lack of performance.

Fair enough, I say, Schumacher can have his detractors because I too am a bit stumped at his lack of pace or ability to get on top of the Mercedes. Difference? I am more than willing to give him time. Even a faltering Schumacher is good for F1–China’s attendance at the Grand Prix proved that. Germany’s TV viewer ratings (up over 50%) proved that.

The question is, how long will people tune in to see Schumacher lumber around midfield? Maybe not long but while they are watching Schumacher struggle, they may just see a series ripe with talent and decide to return to watching the sport. Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Rosberg, Button and Massa may hold their attention span. They certainly hold mine.

I will admit that Schumacher’s post-race comments seemed a bit down-in-the-mouth even for Schumacher. The first signs I have seen of him being a little miffed since his return in Bahrain.

Interestingly enough, a Mercedes GP press conference, attended by Brad Spurgeon of the NY Times, has Brawn scratching his head as to Schumacher’s comment of being slow off the corners.

Spurgeon suggests that Brawn certainly didn’t understand it as that is not something the Mercedes has been struggling with. Why in China? Another good question that perhaps in time will be answered. What does Brawn and Schumacher make of Sunday’s race?

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

“Today was one of those races that you do not want to remember, just like the whole weekend really. It was not good for me and not good from me. You have to take it as another experience and accept it even if it is frustrating that I was not able to get my tyres together better. My strategy in that respect was not very impressive as in the last 10 laps my tyres were just gone and seemed to be more slicks than intermediates. I was one of those drivers who had gone onto the last set quite early and we should have done that differently and positioned the tyres better. In general I had some good and tight fights which was fun but with my last stop being probably too early, in the end I just couldn’t do anything and my fights were quite hopeless then. Congratulations to Nico who made it to the podium and at least one of us scored good points. I am looking forward to going home now but let’s see if we manage to!”

ROSS BRAWN

“We had a very good race with Nico today. He drove extremely well in difficult conditions and the team did everything right on the tyre stops, making good strategic decisions. We lost some of our advantage with the safety car which was a shame but overall an excellent day and a great drive from Nico. With Michael, we clearly had a more difficult time but at least we got a point out of it. We have some issues that we need to understand as the deterioration of his tyres and therefore his pace is a problem that we need to resolve before the next race. We haven’t quite got the car at the moment but when we do, we know that we can get the job done.”

I’m still glad Schumacher’s in the series for more than performance reasons. Similar to the reason I am pleased that Virgin, Lotus, Karun Chandhok, Jaime Alguersuari, Vitaly Petrov and HRT are in the sport. I assume he will come to grips with the car this year or the next but should that not be revealed and he decides to hang up the helmet once more, well…there is always Nick Heidfeld waiting in the wings. ;)

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