He might be more 'relaxed' now than he was back during his record-breaking first career in the top flight, but seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher has insisted that he is still entirely 'serious' about his craft and 'on the right path' in his thus far disappointing comeback with Mercedes Grand Prix in 2010 – even if some of the German legend rivals concede that they are 'surprised that he is struggling'.
Over the opening four grands prix of the 2010 campaign in Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia and China, Schumacher has yet to get the better of young team-mate Nico Rosberg in qualifying, has notched up a mere ten points to his compatriot's 50, lies a distant tenth in the drivers' standings, has appeared uncharacteristically inert in the heat of battle and has languished all at sea in wet conditions – the kind of scenario in which he was once untouchable.
The criticism is mounting, the pressure is increasing – and some are even beginning to wonder if 'Schumi' will even see out the season at this rate, let along the entirety of his three-year Mercedes contract, given the damage being done to his hitherto glittering reputation and outstanding record of success. A new chassis has even been brought to Barcelona for this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix around the Circuit de Catalunya in an effort to resolve his issues.
Adamant, however, that he has no regrets about having elected to audaciously return to the fray at the age of 41 and following three years away from active competition at the highest level, Schumacher has explained that his greatest bugbear to-date in 2010 has been the tyres – and stresses that he remains every bit as committed as he ever was.
“It absolutely wore me down,” he told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung
newspaper when asked about his 2006 retirement, pointing to the 'negative aspects' of F1 that overwhelmed him. “I believe people have noticed that how I was extremely dogged in the past I am now more calm, in a way that previously I was only able to be sometimes.
“I have not lost any focus or my determination. I am still taking it seriously and am still very hard on myself. In that way nothing has changed. The narrower front tyres – both for the dry and for the rain – I don't know from my past. Each driver needs to learn how they behave, so my colleagues have a head-start.”
Calling for lower initial expectations and time to adequately re-adapt, Schumacher went on to contend that he is 'absolutely confident' he will get nearer to the pace as the season progresses and disprove those who doubt his ability to reach the top step of the rostrum again, having done so on no fewer than 91 occasions – six of them in Barcelona – between 1992 and 2006.
“I'm on the right path,” he is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
. “Things will improve. Naturally the joy is bigger when you win races. In China I was very disappointed, I was very angry at myself – but things will be different."
“I'm coming to a completely new structure, and to re-start [from] where I had finished with Ferrari is a process. The only perception I can have [now] is the experience of the past. You have more cars on a more even playing field and you have the best drivers that are around in those cars – so you have a higher level of competition [than before].