Michael Schumacher cut quite a forlorn figure in Turkey at the weekend. And after the race he confirmed that impression when he admitted that he wasn’t really enjoying his racing at the moment, “The big joy is not there right now,” he said.
The seven times world champion seemed to be relishing the improved competitiveness of the Mercedes car in free practice, but wasn’t able to deliver the expected lap time in Q3 when it mattered.
In the Mercedes motorhome for the team press briefing afterwards he seemed quite down about it. He couldn’t explain why the performance hadn’t been there, he’d just not had the grip he wanted.
His race was affected by a collision with Vitaly Petrov soon after the start, which knocked his front wing off. Petrov went on to finish 8th, but Schumacher was 12th,
“I guess I was responsible for the result that I had,” he said after the race. “With Petrov, I guess it was mostly my mistake what happened there. I need to analyse it, as it was a bit strange that suddenly we got together and I lost my front wing, but the race was a given from there – lots of fighting, lots of action, but for nothing.”
Schumacher effectively lost 30 seconds having to make that early stop for a new nose. If you take 30 seconds away from his finishing time, he would have been somewhere around 6th place Jenson Button, whose pace was slow at the end on worn tyres, so the collision was costly.
Last year he had a tough time coming back after three years away and finding that the Bridgestone tyres, with weak fronts and strong rears, just didn’t suit his way of driving. To some extent he was powerless to change his own fortunes.
But when the results don’t come in a competitive car, then a driver asks himself questions.
This year the Pirellis are the other way around, stronger at the front than the rear and he has been quite quick in races.
With a car which was capable of qualifying third in Rosberg’s hands and looked like Red Bull’s closest competitor over a single lap, he clearly expected more and was disappointed not to be able to deliver it.
He probably accepts that due to his age and time out of racing he’s a few tenths slower than Rosberg, but the Mercedes could turn out to be a contender this year and you can always tell when a driver gets a sniff that there may be a chance to do something special. Schumacher needs a podium at the least to make the comeback worthwhile, to give it some real justification.
We have to be careful when ex drivers of a similar age to Schumacher say that his age has nothing to do with it, as Johnny Herbert has said this week, for instance, or Jacques Villeneuve has said several time. It is in their interests to say that as they are all hoping to get paid well to drive competitive cars in their 40s. I don’t think that Rosberg, Vettel and Hamilton are “better” than Schumcher, they are just better than he is now.
If he feels that the joy isn’t there at the moment, then the main reason for the comeback is undermined. He missed racing and so he came back to enjoy himself.
I don’t go along with people who say that he’s damaging his legacy. He won seven world titles in his prime, no-one can take that away from him. There are one or two problems with his legacy anyway, due to controversies he got himself into, but what’s happening now has no impact on what he achieved before to my mind.
This period of return has simply been an epilogue, which has yet to find its sense of purpose.
As to whether this will hasten his second retirement from F1, who knows? He is still Michael Schumacher and his name and status are still of huge value to Mercedes. He has a contract to the end of 2012, that’s another 35 races at least.
There are stories of Mercedes priming Paul di Resta for the seat as soon as next year, but he still has to develop and show consistently some of the quality he showed in the first three races.
Di Resta had a tough weekend in Turkey, incidentally, due to the death of his step-father, Dougie McCracken, who lived with Di Resta’s mother in Scotland and who had apparently committed suicide according to the Daily Record newspaper.
Meanwhile here’s something new, a video blog from Nico Rosberg. He’s going to do one after every race, which is a good idea and something we must hope all drivers will get into in time.