Whilst the rest of the motor racing world has been lambasting his mediocre form this year and wondering where the record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion of yore has gone, Michael Schumacher has at least found one ally inside the paddock and outside of his own team - with Bernie Ecclestone opining that the German legend is doing 'an excellent job' and that all the criticism of him has been 'unfair'.

The balance from the opening nine grands prix of 2010 does not make for pleasant reading for 'Schumi' fans. The man who during his 'first' career at the highest level from 1991 until 2006 tallied no fewer than seven drivers' titles, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and 1,369 points - statistics that may well never be beaten - not to mention obliterating each and every one of his team-mates for good measure, has thus far notched up just 34 points, finished no higher than fourth and been out-qualified by the driver in the other side of the Mercedes Grand Prix garage on seven occasions.

That man, of course, is young compatriot Nico Rosberg, who over the same period has amassed 75 points - including a brace of rostrum finishes - and even pulled off a front row start in a car that is not really up to that kind of performance. The kind of thing, then, that Schumacher used to be capable of doing.

There has also been the perceived inertia, with races like those in Melbourne and in Valencia last weekend in which the Kerpen native sat listlessly behind Scuderia Toro Rosso ace Jaime Alguersuari - a driver with all of 17 starts under his belt in the top flight - for lap-after-lap-after-lap.

Again, the Schumacher of old, say the critics, would have dispatched the young Spaniard in double-quick time - and would not have proven to be such easy prey for the likes of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil either, after the Force India duo shuffled him out of the points in the very closing stages of the Canadian Grand Prix. Nor notched up the worst classified finish of his F1 career in the European Grand Prix, for that matter.

Far from fulfilling pre-season predictions that he would be able to contend for the title on his much-celebrated return from three years away in 'retirement', rumours are now spreading that the 41-year-old could indeed be encouraged to call off his comeback two years early at the end of the season to allow for Renault star Robert Kubica to take his place - though Schumacher himself is adamant he is going nowhere, and that he can still challenge for victories in 2010 [see separate story - click here].

Last weekend, current world championship leader Lewis Hamilton conceded that he 'didn't expect anything from him (Schumacher) at the beginning' given that 'it is very difficult to out-do the youngsters that have the hunger that he had when he started' [see separate story - click here] - but the sport's hugely-influential commercial rights supremo Ecclestone has sprung to the defence of the most successful driver F1 has ever known.

"I think he is doing an excellent job," the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told German website Motorsport Magazin. "I do think the criticism of him is unfair. He has spent the last three years on holiday. What do you expect after such a break? Everyone hopes that he wins a race again - I hope so."

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