Speculation surrounds the future of Michael Schumacher in Formula 1.
Officially, his contract at Mercedes runs on into 2011. But after a bruising comeback season, in which he’s been out-scored by team mate Nico Rosberg 112-46, will he want to?
The explanation for Schumacher’s difficulties this season begin with the shortcomings of the W01. Fundamental problems relating to its weight distribution and tyre use, which despite the team’s efforts cannot be fixed mid-season, have kept it from being the contenders its predecessor was.
Then there are Schumacher’s particular problems: his late arrival to the team meant he had no input during the car’s early development; the move to smaller-width front tyres this year which are ill-suited to his driving style; his inability to conduct the prodigious amount of in-season testing as he did during his championship years.
With Pirelli replacing Bridgestone next year the reset button will be pressed and everyone will be back to square one. And this time he’ll have been involved in the development of the car from a much earlier stage.
It will be a chance for Schumacher to get back on level terms with his rivals. Unless he scores some remarkable result in the last five races of the year, he should seize the opportunity to salvage something from his comeback.
Formula 1 has changed so much in the short space of time between Schumacher’s last appearance and his comeback that you have to question whether he ever could attain the same level of form he did in the early 2000s.
Without near-bespoke tyres, without tens of thousands of kilometres of testing and without a team mate bending over backwards on demand, Schumacher isn’t going to be able to re-create his Ferrari experience in silver at Mercedes.
Another season of failure would only harm his reputation further. Better to call it quits now.
We know he’s far better than he looks right now.
The Schumacher that struggled woefully in the rain at Shanghai this year is the same man who danced around it in similar conditions on his way to his 91st career win only four years ago.
Painful though it may be, I think Schumacher has to take the long-term view and write 2010 off as a preparation year for 2011.
There are good reasons to expect next year will be better and, assuming he’s happy with his physical condition, for the sake of his reputation he’s got to stick with it.
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