Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn has backed Michael Schumacher to succeed in the 2011 F1 season, despite admitting that he could have been out of drive for next season if he was any other driver.
The seven-time champion came out of retirement this season to make a comeback but has been outperformed by team-mate Nico Rosberg. While Rosberg sits seventh in the standings and has scored 122 points, Schumacher is down in tenth having managed just 46 of his own.
Schumacher hasn't been helped by the fact that the team was unable to start work early on its 2010 car as it battled to secure the title last year as Brawn GP, while the German has also struggled to adapt to the current Bridgestone tyres.
Speaking to the official F1 website, Brawn admitted that tyres had been an issue for Schumacher this season due to the unique nature of the product provided by Bridgestone while the team hadn't expected changes for 2010 to have a negative effect on its car.
“Michael's driving style depends on a strong front tyre that can withstand his hard braking and the steering manoeuvres that he prefers,” he said. “Nico has simply understood better how to handle these front tyres. I have to say that this year's front tyre is very uncommon. That stems from the fact that the FIA wanted to promote KERS and had asked Bridgestone to develop tyres that would fit a certain weight distribution and thus create a specific tyre characteristic.
“Next year we expect the Pirelli tyres will work better for Michael's driving style and only then will we know if Nico really is quicker than Michael. We still have very little information about the tyre characteristics. But as particular as the Bridgestone tyres have been this year I don't expect the Pirelli tyres to be. There has even been a change for the worse from 2009 to 2010 - something that we had not anticipated and thus had not considered for our weight distribution.”
While he denied once again that Mercedes was building its 2011 car specifically to suit Schumacher, Brawn said he was confident that with a better car, the German could fight at the front.
However, in a somewhat frank admission, Brawn also revealed that Schumacher might have found himself out of work without his past successes to back him up.
“To be honest, probably not,” he said when asked if Schumacher would still be in the car if he was anyone else. “But because we know Michael, we know that there is still a lot to come because Michael is in many fields more talented than others - in driving and in the cooperation with the team. The team are very happy with the way Michael is contributing. If he were a rookie we surely would have asked ourselves if he has the capacity to advance. With Michael we know that he has.
“If you take the telemetry data in fast corners or his reaction time when the car breaks away, I don't see any difference [from when he was with Ferrari]. There he's still the old Michael. But in the slow corners he cannot make full use of the tyres as Nico can. Nico has put the bar very high in this respect. But I guess that's okay for Michael as he clearly sees where he has to improve. I predict that in 2011 we will again see the true Michael - when we've delivered him a better car.”