Michael Schumacher could already be a winner on his much-heralded comeback to active competition in F1 2010 if only circumstances had played in his favour rather than conspiring against him – that is the assertion of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug.
Whilst the media are on his back and fans are saying the record-breaking seven-time F1 World Champion has lost his touch following three years away from the cut-and-thrust of the grand prix grid, Schumacher's Mercedes bosses have always been resolute in their defence of their talisman driver – and insistent that all the 41-year-old needs is time to re-acclimatise himself and get fully back into the groove.
On paper, the bare statistics are certainly distinctly unflattering. In comparison with young Mercedes Grand Prix team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg – a man still to triumph at the highest level – Schumacher has been outscored 50 points to just ten and out-qualified on every occasion thus far this season, thereby sharing with Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov the ignominious honour of being one of only two drivers in the field yet to come out on top in their internecine duels on Saturday afternoons.
'Schumi' has failed to qualify any higher than seventh or finish any higher than sixth in the opening four grands prix of the campaign – whilst Rosberg began from the front row in Malaysia and ascended the podium both in Sepang and Shanghai to lie a superb second in the drivers' standings returning to Europe. That has led Haug to quip that 'maybe Nico is the fastest guy in the world' – but merely served to compound the troubles of the driver across the Mercedes garage in the sister Silver Arrow.
To put it into context, Rosberg's worst qualifying position matches Schumacher's best, whilst inert performances in Melbourne – where he spent a full 22 laps struggling to pass the Scuderia Toro Rosso of inexperienced Spanish youngster Jaime Alguersuari – and Shanghai, where he dropped down the order like a stone in unpredictable climatic conditions that were once his forté, have led to accusations that the Kerpen native is now little more than a spent force and a pale shadow of his former invincible self.
Though the knives are already out, with some suggesting the 91-time grand prix-winner should never have come back and others opining that he will walk away again before the end of the current season – let alone the end of his three-year contract – F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has cautioned against 'underestimating' the most successful driver in the sport's long history [see separate story – click here
Now Haug too has waded into the argument by contending that but for a tap from the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso at the first corner in Albert Park that left him needing to replace a broken front wing, Schumacher could in fact have won the Australian Grand Prix.
“He ran fourth ahead of the winner, went to the back and still came home in tenth place,” the German pointed out. “You say he is struggling, but the reality is that he could have won the second race. We need to be fair [regarding Schumacher's comeback], because the car is not where it should be.”