Mercedes Grand Prix management have again been forced to leap to the defence of star driver Michael Schumacher in the wake of yet another troubled race in Canada last weekend - as Nick Fry admitted he is 'surprised' that the record-breaking German legend is still coming in for criticism and argued that he is performing every bit as well as his team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Having qualified a lowly 13th in Montreal - the first time he has missed the top ten shoot-out since his much-vaunted comeback to active competition this year - Schumacher went on to tangle with Renault rival Robert Kubica upon exiting his first pit-stop as the pair duelled vigorously and both shot across the grass.

The result was a puncture for the seven-time world champion that necessitated an immediate return to the pits, whilst later in the race there was a similar disagreement with erstwhile Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, a man who had always previously looked up to 'Schumi' as a kind of mentor and friend.

To add insult to injury, the 41-year-old then found himself overtaken by Scuderia Toro Rosso's S?bastien Buemi and - on the very last lap as he struggled with badly-degrading tyres - by Force India duo Vitantonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil, leaving the Kerpen native to take the chequered flag outside of the points in an abject eleventh place, causing former Benetton team-mate and BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle to lament his driving as 'appallingly bad' in his 'worst weekend since he came back'.

Schumacher currently sits just ninth in the title standings, with barely half the points total of eighth-placed Massa and 40 points adrift of Rosberg, but Mercedes CEO Fry insisted that he 91-time grand prix-winner 'continues to improve' and simply requires a change of fortune.

"I'm surprised people have reached those conclusions," the Englishman is quoted as having said by British newspaper The Sun. "He (Schumacher) was in a good position until the puncture, but when something like that happens you get out-of-sequence. We also put him on the 'Option' tyre slightly earlier than we maybe should have done; otherwise he would have been able to defend better than he did.

"Certainly from inside the team, we see things in a totally different perspective. We don't really see any significant difference in performance between Nico Rosberg and Michael - one is getting the breaks and the other isn't at the moment.

"In sport, what goes around comes around, so we're very comfortable with Michael's performance and I can't see any reason why he won't come good. He continues to improve and he is going to make a good job of it. It's all part of the learning process. I think he, and we as a team, will continue to work hard this year and do the best we can. We still want to be in the top three. Red Bull and McLaren are fairly dominant, but Ferrari have had a mixed season."


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