Sebastian Vettel has advised against writing off Michael Schumacher in the F1 2010 World Championship, opining that his feted countryman can still 'play a very big role' in the destiny of the laurels this year, that 'Mercedes will come back' and that contrary to what his detractors would have you believe, 'Schumi' is in actual fact 'doing a very good job'.
There has been much criticism this season of the eagerly-hyped yet markèdly underwhelming comeback of the most successful driver the sport has ever known, with the Michael Schumacher of 2010 seemingly a very different creature to the driver who claimed no fewer than seven world championship crowns, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and 1,369 points and practically obliterated each and every one of his team-mates in the top flight during his 'first career' at the highest level between 1991 and 2006.
The model that has returned three years on from 'retirement', it is argued, is by stark comparison listless and an easy touch in battle, no longer as quick as he once was and indeed fast becoming a laughing stock, having tallied just 36 points from the opening ten races of the campaign to Mercedes Grand Prix team-mate Nico Rosberg's 90, and not a single rostrum finish to three for his younger compatriot.
There are even whispers – stringently denied by the 41-year-old – that he may choose to save himself any further embarrassment and damage to his illustrious reputation by hanging up his helmet again come season's end, but Vettel suggests to dismiss him that easily would be a grave mistake.
“Obviously he has been criticised a lot lately in Germany, England, everywhere I think,” mused the driver once nicknamed 'Baby Schumi' in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel
, when asked if he deems his elder compatriot's return to the grand prix grid to have been a failure. “I think he is doing a very good job – it is far from easy to return after a three-year break, even though he was never entirely away from F1 – but if anybody can manage it, he can.
“The cars have changed, the tyres as well – many things are not the way that he had become accustomed to – [but] when I look at his face and read his body language, I do not see any confusion or panic. Obviously the car he's in at the moment is probably not the most competitive one, and it's always hard from the outside to make a fair judgement about what is going on, if the car is to his liking or not – but I still think he can play a very big role in this year's championship. I think Mercedes will come back, they will have strong races this year and I think they can be able to win races.”
Having already gone wheel-to-wheel with Schumacher in the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai back in April, Vettel is well-placed to comment upon the Kerpen native's racecraft and appetite for the fight – and the Red Bull Racing star is insistent that in every possible way, he remains one of F1's biggest draws.
“You can feel that it's not just anybody racing you,” the 23-year-old reasoned. “I remember the race in China; there was a lot of passing and so on, but you realise he knows how to defend well and he knows how to kill your run, let's say, and to defend his position better than most. In some other actions you see, like in free practice, it shows you there's something special going on.
“Obviously the results are not the best, but I think that will change. If someone wins seven titles, you'd think he had to be something special. I don't think you can take his place – he is still the best-known racing driver in Germany and due to him, F1 is a very big sport in Germany. I don't think people will forget that quickly; surely with good results, drivers like Nico, myself and others can get better-known, but Michael is still a long way ahead in those terms.”