Michael Schumacher's former long-time team-mate Rubens Barrichello has warned that the record-breaking German legend 'has more to lose than gain' on his celebrated comeback to active competition in F1 2010 – reasoning that with a legacy such as his, the only way surely is down.
Prior to hanging up his helmet at the end of his 16th campaign at the highest level in 2006, Schumacher had notched up an unrivalled seven drivers' world championship crowns, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and a staggering 1,369 points – records that in all likelihood, might never be beaten.
Three years on, however, and the 41-year-old's much-hyped return to the starting grid with Mercedes Grand Prix yielded a distant sixth place in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir earlier this month, behind young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg – distinctly unaccustomed territory and a far cry from Schumi's dominance of yore.
What's more, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at McLaren-Mercedes, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa at Schumacher's former employers Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing, that may well be far from the only time the Kerpen native finishes so far down the order in 2010 – a season that has been touted as the most open, unpredictable and fiercely-competitive in years. It is not, Barrichello cautions, the same F1 that he walked away from three years ago.
“I've got to be careful with whatever I say there, because it always sounds very dodgy coming out of my mouth,” confessed the man who acted as a subservient if sometimes grudging second fiddle to Schumacher at the Scuderia
from 2000 until 2005. “[Honestly], I think he can do well this year, but when he left he was winning all the time, so for me he has more to lose than gain.
“If he doesn't care about that and he's doing it for pure pleasure then he's fine – if Formula 1 wasn't watched on TV or by journalists and you had just the pleasure of yourself looking in the mirror... That's how I took 2007 and 2008 because I had a terrible car, but I drove races [where] I finished 13th better than when I won races with better cars. I had to look at myself and be happy with what I was doing. Hopefully he is doing it for his own pleasure, and if so that is fine.”
As to the much-debated new regulations in 2010, the Brazilian – the most experienced driver of all time in the top flight – conceded that Schumacher will soon adapt, even if he may not do so quite quickly enough to fulfil his stated pre-season goal of challenging the sport's young guns for an extraordinary eighth drivers' title.
“Good drivers adapt to anything,” explained the 37-year-old Williams ace. “We could in a way say 'oh yes it is not helping my style', but you get used to it.”