Michael Schumacher has again insisted that he can win races with Mercedes this season, responding both to criticism of recent performances and claims from Lewis Hamilton that the veteran won't be able to compete with the new generation.
Schumacher qualified a lowly 15th for this weekend's European Grand Prix, his worst position since returning from a three-year retirement to link up with former Ferrari colleague Ross Brawn at the rechristened Mercedes team, and had to fight off further suggestions that he was now a shadow of the man who claimed seven world titles and rewrote the F1 record books during a glittering career with Benetton and Ferrari.
The Valencia disappointment follows a scrappy performance in the Canadian GP two weeks ago, which not only prompted detailed examination of his season, but also led to suggestions in Italy that Renault's Robert Kubica was being lined up to replace Schumacher next year [see story here
The German responded to the post-Montreal criticism from TV pundits by calling it an attempt to build ratings, and maintained that he was still able to mix it with the frontrunning teams should Mercedes' WO1 allow.
"I don't take them seriously," he claimed, "There are different elements to F1 and one part is showbusiness. To moan about me sometimes creates some attention, which is maybe the purpose. I'd rather not have it, or have to hear about it, but that's what it comes down to.
"Yes, you make mistakes and you could have improved certain things, especially with hindsight. But, all in all, I don't think there are many guys around the world who, at 41, come back after a three-year break and compete at this high a level. I've not lost my knowledge of driving. I know what I'm doing and I think I do it to the best I can. When I won 91 grands prix and seven championships, I was thinking then about how I can improve, as I'm doing now."
The opening day in Valencia saw Schumacher uncharacteristically apologising to a fellow driver, having inadvertently blocked 2008 world champion Hamilton in free practice, but may not have done so had he heard the Briton's assessment of his season so far.
"I didn't expect anything from him at the beginning," Hamilton told Britain's Guardian
newspaper, "There was an occasion when I saw him before the season started and I kind of thought his commitment was the same as mine at the time.
"After that, he was pushing like crazy - and he still is today. His commitment is the same as always, but it is so challenging. It is very difficult to out-do the youngsters that have the hunger that he had when he started."