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Schumacher gets some support from old friends
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Schumacher gets some support from old friends
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Apr 2010   |  10:41 am GMT  |  156 comments

Bernie Ecclestone and Mercedes boss Norbert Haug have both stepped in to support the struggling Michael Schumacher in the last couple of days.

Schumacher’s failure to rekindle the old magic is becoming increasingly awkward, particularly after a subdued performance in Shanghai.


But both Ecclestone and Haug believe that Schumacher still has the capacity to thrill and it is only a matter of time.

“Nico is very talented and Michael was on holiday for three years,” Ecclestone says on the official F1.com site. “Ask me the same question after another two races but, at the moment I would say, don’t underestimate Michael.

“Michael would have never returned had he not been convinced that he can do the job. Give him time to adapt to the new car and the new tyres. At the moment, he’s something of a newbie who has to get accustomed to the trade again. But he’s not a tourist in the paddock – he’s here to win. And he will win again.”

Schumacher has struggled to get on the pace of his team mate Nico Rosberg this season and Shanghai was the first time in his career that he was beaten by a team mate in both qualifying and the race for a fourth consecutive race.

Generally speaking, his lack of competitiveness so far is down to him struggling to adapt his driving style to these new generation Brdgestone tyres. They are quite different to the grooved tyres he drove with, up to three years ago. If you recall last season, the first on slick tyres after many years on grooves, everybody was learning a lot about the tyres in the first half of the season. But they were doing so together.

Schumacher had to take a calculated gamble on this, knowing also that he would not be able to do the hundreds of hours of testing he enjoyed in the old days at Ferrari. Testing is now banned until February 2011.

Also the specific set of circumstances of the conditions in Shanghai exacerbated Schumacher’s problem.


He opted for the soft tyre early in the race, once he’d corrected the mistake of switching to intermediates. Most people who made that same choice at that point found that their car understeered and the left front tyre grained quite badly, which was particularly bad for drivers with a particular set up or balance which didn’t suit those conditions. It played very badly with Schumacher.

It is also worth remembering that Shanghai was never a particularly strong circuit for him when he was in his first career.

The German media has been getting on his back a bit this week. They had built things up to such an extent. Even though they have fantastic story of the flowering of Sebastian Vettel’s talent to tell, they have been rather one-eyed since Schumacher announced his comeback and so for it to be a disappointment wasn’t really in the script.

According to Haug, far from being dejected about how it’s going, Schumacher is realising what he was missing during those three years on the sidelines, “We all know that Michael would be his first and foremost critic if he realised that this job is not for him anymore,” said Mercedes boss Norbers Haug. “But that’s not the case. Within the team, Michael is extremely constructive. I think, at the moment, he’s realising how much he has missed all that. If you are a rock ’n’ roll star, you want to be on stage and not contemplating life from your sofa. His enthusiasm is firing up the whole team.”

The Mercedes is not the fastest car out there, it looks like the fourth fastest at the moment, more or less as it has been since the first race. But Rosberg has been getting results from it, including podiums in the last two races. Whether that would have happened if we’d had four dry qualifyings and four dry races is a moot point, because in racing you deal with what’s put in front of you.

Haug also makes the point that the Mercedes team, formerly Brawn, is already working with the lower staff numbers called for in the resource restriction agreement, while its opposition still has to go through that painful transition before the end of 2011. In some cases, this will mean shedding over half the workforce and that will not be done without a certain loss of competitiveness. Mercedes by buying the compact Brawn operation, got the pain over with at the outset. I talked at length with Haug last October about this and it was a fundamental to Mercedes’ strategy.

It is for this reason, that I have been saying for some time that Schumacher is probably thinking more about 2011, when McLaren will be missing Mercedes’ money and all the big teams will be going through a downsizing exercise, than he is about 2010.

He is getting back up to speed again and taking the time to recharge his database.

That said there is a rather worrying comparison with the old Schumacher. For my biography of him in 2007, Ross Brawn talked about his ability to drive around any problem or imbalance in a car,

“One of the problems with Michael is that he has such great raw talent that he can drive around an imbalance. So you have to be careful with that because you can make a change and he will compensate for it very quickly. He might be doing similar lap times but it doesn’t throw the changes into focus so you can go the wrong way (on set up). There is never the disparity with Michael between a car which is perfect and one which is not so good, as you would get with other drivers.

“This is also a weakness because it makes the difference between a good car and an average car less discernible in testing and you can easily misread how competitive a car really is.”

Even his staunchest allies would agree that, at the moment, it is hard to reconcile those words with what we are seeing from the 41 year old version of Michael Schumacher.

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1

Drivers have different strengths. It’s the worst-kept secret in F1 that Schumacher prefers cars with “oversteery” characteristics.

At the moment, the Mercedes has the opposite problem – a lack of grip at the front end. So it’s no great surprise that we aren’t seeing the Schumacher of old.

The test is Barcelona. If Mercedes correct their problems with the massive update, will we see Schumacher cruise away from Rosberg?

If not, this excuse won’t wash any more.

2

I love Schumacher but everyone seems to dismiss the team that he had around him at ferrari when he won. It was also HIS show. He set the tone, its the only reason he could have veterans as teammates as they knew the score and kept their mouths shut. Could you imagine the current crop of young drivers letting that happen? never. Luca de Montezemolo would never let that happen though as he would never get a young driver. Brawn, Luca, Jean Todt, Michael- that is a lot of intellectual and political horse power on top of the fact that the ferrari engineers had produced the best car seen for ages- why is this never part of the eqution when discussing Schuey’s current woes?

3

I think those comments from Ross Brawn still ring true. The car is not set-up at all how Schumacher lieks it. They have simply mis-judged the rule changes so the way Schumacher likes the car set-up is beyond what the car can currently be set-up to do. However it is more than likely much closer to what Nico likes so the fact that, until China, Schumacher was only 1-2 tenths off, he is adapting extremely well. Lets see what happens when can eventually set the car up to his liking, hopefully come Barcelona.

4

I just dont think schumi has the confidence in the car to push it to the limit , particularly in free practice. The where telling shots on tV of Rosbery adjustting the brake balance in the car which looked super slick compared with schumi’s attempts which seemed more cumbersome. Once he feels able to push to the limit … and then beyong it , we will see a very competitive driver again ….. 3 years is a very long time and most people take a few months to settle back into a new job after a sabbatical.

5

I have to confess I don’t feel at all sorry for Schmacher he’s getting what he deserves. Compete on a level playing field and lets see how good you really are.

Button, Alonso & Rosberg are in new cars and are making a nonesense of the ” give him time to get use to the car…” argument.

Ross Brawn (a man of dubious character) always provided him with “advantages” i.e “alledged” traction control mapping on the Benetton, unquestioned no.1 status I believe underestimated Rosberg. Who as geninly outpaced Micheal in quali and race trim, killing the excuse that would have been the car is a dog had Micheal been able to out perform him but still not got results.

Micheal had a charmed career 1st time round, the way he won his first championship etc. Now he really is racing its interesting watching him cope.

Hamilton in the Merc for 2011 is my gut feeling……lol

6

Why don’t people give credit where its really due – Rosberg is F*cking GOOD! He dragged that Williams into places it never ever deserved to be (4th place, Rosberg was a common sight when the williams was far from the 2nd or 3rd best car).

Let’s please get with it.

7

I’m interested to see what James thinks about Michael’s driving style versus where the car is right now. Its seems from my observations that one of his main problems is putting the power down/traction issues. Martin Brundle pointed this out in China and that it could be the engine’s torque characteristics or the cars mechanical grip. I remember the 1995 BBC documentary discussing his particular driving style. It was based around massive steering input due to getting the power down so early on the exit of corners. I know this seems a bit symplistic but it could be a reason for his current struggles.

8

Man, I have been looking for Michaels BBC Documentary forever! Would you happen to know where I can find it? It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

9

I have to admit that I was never Schumacher’s greatest fan but I did get excited at the prospect of his return… strong statement from a McLaren fan.

All I would say in his defence is he had never driven this generation of F1 cars before the winter.

Look at Grosjean and Alguersuari’s performances from late last season. Now, I concede that neither had the weight of expectation that comes with being a seven-times world champion and that Grosjean never got another shot at it this year. But now consider Jaime Alguersuari’s improvement this year. He has been nothing short of impressive in a Minardi (let’s face it, Red Bull isn’t putting anywhere near as much money into the Toros as the main team anymore – it’s a Minardi)

All I’m saying is give Schumacher time – at least half a season, maybe a full one – and if I’m wrong and he doesn’t hit the heights that people expect I hope they remember HE’S FORTY-ONE!

10

I believe Schumi will still spring a surprise this season; even if that decision is to quit at the end of 2010….

No-one can take away his past achievements, however I for one honestly believe he will improve and cause an upset or three!

The problem is as we all are noting, the press and fans around the world alike (whether MS fans or not..) are not giving the guy a chance and pitting him against his vintage self; his own past success being the target all expect him to come close to, if not match or exceed…

Whether you’re a fan or not, give the guy a chance to take on-board the huge technical changes, then we might see him upset the order.

I would love to see it, even though I cursed many a weekend when he ‘boringly’ won so often, but one cannot argue with his talent.

Did he not win the Race of Champions many times since quitting F1, or is my nearly 41 yr old brain fogging over those particular facts….?!

The guy is a racer through and through, but lack of testing is harming him for sure.

James, what is your opinion regarding the testing ban? I ask in respect of the current new teams; don’t you think its inherently dangerous that cars can join the track without sufficient testing?

How about the established teams, they bolt a new part and really don’t know for sure if it will be ok on track or fail as Buemi’s upright did in China?!

I see a total lack of in-season testing as being dangerous and hardly reflective of being the so-called pinnacle of motorsport!

11

Can you really see MS going wheel to wheel with the likes of Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso?

No, I can’t either.

12

James, in watching MS over the years, from him getting his first win, WDC’s with Benetton and progressing to Ferrari…what can you say about the role of traction control and other driver aids?

I remember him making consistent quotes saying that he always favoured these things and that he loved the idea of getting the maximum out of cars using the technology.

I am asking since nowadays most of the technology is policed and if I am not correct taken away from the drivers.

Thanks!

(maybe I am cheekily suggesting that he is the ultimate “TC King”…but I leave to you to provide some excellent analysis on this)

13

Michael has done his business in F1, he has 7 title which most current drivers will never reach, he broke a record help for 50 years from Fangio. People should remember that when he wanted to take Ferrari to the top followed by 5 straight titles, you would remember that this is the man that made all sacrifices and it took years before they enjoyed being the top players in F1.

From what I know, Michael like Alonso likes to be informed about every bit in the development of the car, this years Mercedes GP was built with the input of Brawn drivers, Michael took the decision late in December for a drive. This car may not suit his driving style, from what I have seen, Michael looks more relaxed and fitter than ever. In the past we forget that drivers won their championships in their 40s.

People just like to apply unnecessary pressure where as we should be celebrating these heroes for what they can achieve, driving an F1 car is not an easy thing to do.

Personally i try hard never to be a critic and I could never ever do any of those stuff that F1 drivers do, controlling an F1 car requires a special talent and skills.

14

I haven’t read all the replies so sorry if I am repeating someone else’s thoughts, but I wonder if, in considering coming back from retirement, Michael ever considered the possibility he would not only be slower than a lot of his competitors, but slower even to his teammate who has never won a single race?

Apparently he seems a lot more calm and relaxed than in previous years, so maybe he is truly out there to simply enjoy himself first and foremost, but to still try hard to win.

If that is the case, which would be the sign of maturity, then I am even more of a Schumacher convert. Profesional sport desperately needs a lot more laid back, joyful athletes. They are fun to root for.

15

Hello James,

I ve been watching michael since he first started and i believe(not many do so) that he is a man depended a lot on psuchology. He is a steady driver and an analytical mind but i ve come to believe that he is influenced by things around him more than people think…

Therefore i am asking you, in terms of psychology, how is he now?

16

Michael has more potential then Button despite Button’s exceptionally flukey start…

Lets hope there is more to come…

17

Hi James

Any insights into Mercedes longer Wheel base Chassis for Barcelona and how it relates to Michael Schumacher.

Just want to thank you for your feedback, it makes F1 fans like myself feel closer to the sport!

Vic

18

The guy is doing great, considering.

Not a Schumi fan, but hats off to him. Getting back in the saddle after so long away was brave, IMO.

19

could it be that shumi’s problem is that he might be missing the traction control?

20

I find it interesting that some people want to defend Schumacher’s lack of performance.

First up he is being paid a shed load of money and so far hasn’t given his employers value for money.

There are other new F1 drivers this year that haven’t got the experience of the current F1 cars and tyres and are just getting on with the job. Adapting to new technical regulations is part of an F1 driver’s job description. MS has over 15 years of F1 experience to draw on. By all accounts this years cars are less demanding to drive because they are carrying full fuel loads and not every lap is like a qualifier as in the past. This is crucial because at 41 it would have made Schumacher’s job a lot harder. Overall I don’t think there is any valid reason why MS isn’t doing better.

F1 has moved on from the Schumacher era. No one driver is bigger than the sport of F1.

There’s a lot of new exciting talent in F1 and it’s great to see new drivers getting a chance to show their talent. I’d be just as happy to see Hulkenberg or Petrov in the Merc.

If MS lifts another drivers crown then it will reflect poorly on F1. Think about it. A 41 year old former champ goes on holidays for 3 years and comes back and flogs everyone. Not a good look.

21

Dieter Rencken’s latest column in Autosport.com has a very interesting analysis of Schumacher’s performance. It may be that several problems or difficulties all at once have contributed to his faltering performance. Reminds me of some plane crashes.

22

Not having read the column, I wouldn’t be surprised if Schumacher and Shovlin have attempted to dial-out understeer (Button’s preference) and just made the traction worse, fundamentally making the car slower.

23

I am not convinced that age is Schumacher’s main problem this year.

Look at Dara Torres the Olympic swimmer who at the age of 41 won 3 silver medals at the Beijing Olympics. These were in the 50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay, all of which require tremendous speed and strength. Her first Olympic competition was in 1984, she skipped 1996 and 2004. At her first comeback in 2000 at the age of 33, many considered her way too old for a competitive swimmer – until she won some gold medals.

Training methods as well as expectations have changed quite a lot in the last few years. A person can maintain a high level of fitness for much longer than thought possible before, as long as one keeps training.

It will be interesting to see if changes to the car will improve Schumacher’s performance relative to Rosberg. Having stayed out of competition for 3 years may well be the problem, but hey, Niki Lauda managed a pretty good comeback.

24

Is there not a concern for Rosberg that the characteristics of the car will be moved more towards Schumacher’s style? Berger and Alesi found Schumi’s Bennetton almost undriveable when they moved there. Apparantly Rosberg hates oversteer and MS loves it (maybe James could expand on this rather simplistic analysis, appantly JYS commented on it pre-season)

25

I disagree with you..I don’t think someone who had done monaco 2004 and jerez 1997 can ever be mattured enough to drive for fun.I bet it’s killing him to be beaten 4 times in a row by his team mate.

Remember,at the first test Michael said that being left 0.4s behind Rosberg is just too much for his standard.is this the kind of saying from a person who’s driving for fun? I don’t think so.

I honestly believe that he will put his helmet down by the end of this season and just live a normal life outside F1 cockpit.

26

James,

Thanks for this post. I posted some questions on an earlier post (http://jaonf1.wpengine.com/2010/04/vettel-stuns-webber-in-shanghai-qualifying/) about Schumi’s lack of performance. This post goes some way towards explaining his performance compared to Rosberg.

Whether it is 2011 or later in 2010, I truly believe that a talent of his caliber cannot just forget how to drive. Maybe that statement will come to haunt me later but this old dog will bite again.

Schumi’s saga, along with Button beating Hamilton at McLaren so far, this season has all the makings of a classic. The Barcelona GP seems too far away. I wish I could shrink time so we could get to the dang racing……

Thanks for the insightful posts on this riveting season.

27

Michael Schumacher’s Agenda:

1 Win races,extend legend(you cannot find the full extent of MGP performance without trying to win every race)

2 Help old friend(Ross Brawn and company want a second opinion they can trust)

3 Restore most revered German marque to former status(so that the future is bright for all of us in Grand Prix land)

4 Make lots of money(he is risking his life)

28

why people keep saying that the drivers in f1 risk their lives? That’s no longer a factor.

29

Jovy Marcelo,Dale Earnhardt,Mark Donahue-Murphy took these guys.Murphy loves F1.

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