2011 F1 season
Michael Schumacher’s troubled weekend in Istanbul has brought his decision to return to F1 into question once again.
His post-race remarks that he wasn’t getting “big joy” from his racing any more were widely reported.
With the results still not coming in the second year of his comeback, how much longer will he stick around?
His difficulties last year were explained away by unhappiness with the Bridgestone tyres. In his absence, F1 turned into a single-tyre championship, and the weaker front tyre now used by Bridgestone did not suit his driving style.
Schumacher complained about the lack of opportunity for in-season testing, and over the winter we discovered he suffers from nausea when driving Mercedes’ simulator.
Problems with the Drag Reduction System were blamed for his poor qualifying compared to Rosberg in the fly-away races.
But even making allowances for all these setbacks, his performance in 23 races as Nico Rosberg’s team mate has been disappointing. Here’s how their race finishing positions compare:
Rosberg has made it into Q3 in every race, Schumacher once, and Rosberg has typically been around two-thirds of a second faster on a hot lap.
While Rosberg has spent 84 laps in the top five so far this year, Schumacher has managed just one.
This is strange territory for Schumacher. In his pre-comeback F1 life being beaten by a team mate on a race weekend was a rarity.
His return to F1 is supposed to be a three-year plan. But it’s hard to imagine that graph extending to sixty or so races with no improvement in Schumacher’s form. Surely something has to change.
And if, as he admitted after Turkey, he is no longer enjoying his racing, then why hang around at all?
There are signs that frustration at his difficulties are translating into mistakes at the wheel – not least his bizarre swerve into the back of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault during the Turkish Grand Prix.
There are many examples of great sporting champions who stayed on past their prime, the scale of their achievements irrevocably diminished by their inability to judge when to stop.
F1 is no exception – think of Nigel Mansell’s ill-advised appearances for McLaren in 1995, or Graham Hill racing at the back of the field for year after year in the seventies.
It may already be too late for Schumacher to avoid a similar fate.
Form changes quickly in F1, and this is one driver who must never be underestimated. But if his performances continue to disappoint, and he really is no longer enjoying what he’s doing, he may decide to hang up that red helmet for good.
Read about Schumacher’s former life at Mercedes in this earlier article: Michael Schumacher: the Mercedes years
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