Damon Hill has insisted it would be unwise in the extreme to dismiss Michael Schumacher from contention off the back of the record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion's comparatively poor return to top flight competition thus far this season – arguing that the German legend 'somehow is always able to pull something out of the hat'.
The balance from the opening nine grands prix of the 2010 campaign do not make for encouraging reading for Schumacher, Mercedes Grand Prix or his fans, with no finish better than fourth place, two failures to make the top ten on the starting grid in what is one of the best cars in the field, a points total less than half that of young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg – and, worst of all, an apparent listlessness in races, with the brio, aggression and opportunism that characterised his driving for so long and earned him seven titles at the highest level rarely anywhere to be seen.
A brief flourish during which he threatened to get the better of Rosberg following modifications to the MGP 001 soon evaporated, and after three years away from the cockpit and the cut-and-thrust of wheel-to-wheel F1 action, the critics are claiming that now into his fifth decade, 'Schumi' has lost his edge and that his much-hyped and celebrated comeback was a mistake. Don't judge just yet, Hill warns.
“It was nice to see Michael again in Monaco!” quipped the 1996 F1 World Champion, who famously crossed swords with the Kerpen native many a time during his own grand prix career as they duelled over race victories and the title laurels, and alluding to his role as a race steward when Schumacher got hauled up for his safety car indiscretion in the Principality last month.
“Listen, he loves driving, and where else are you going to get the same fulfilment or kick? It's not about the money. He is a racing driver, it's what he loves to do and he's still a pretty young guy – 41 these days isn't that old.
“I did think he was getting the upper hand [over Rosberg] for a while. 'Situation normal' for Michael is that his rightful place is up at the front – then all is well with the world. That's where he sees himself still. You can never write him off – I made that mistake. He is very determined and he will want to show that it's still possible to win when you're 41. He is never out; somehow he is always able to pull something out of the hat.”