Norbert Haug has added further weight to Mercedes' apparent determination to keep Michael Schumacher on board for 2011 by insisting that the seven-time champion has lost none of his ability behind the wheel.
Speaking to journalists at Suzuka, Haug responded to a report in the German media that claimed Schumacher had been given an ultimatum to 'shape up or ship out' by claiming that he had detected no loss of motivation in the 41-year old, who has been at the centre of rumours about his future for some time.
"This is an interpretation of what was said but, of course, there was no ultimatum," he said, referring to the article, "I think Michael again showed today his class, his full commitment. We are currently a little bit handicapped with our car, but I have no complaints and no regrets that we're going to achieve our target. We need to work hard.
"As I said before in a similar conference, we are sticking together and Michael is, for me, as good as he ever was - and probably even better. He's relaxed, concentrated. He doesn't need anybody to defend him, certainly not me, but we are very happy with the job he's doing and we need to give Nico [Rosberg] and him a better car."
Schumacher has been out-performed by his young team-mate this season, the veteran's first back in the top flight after three years of retirement, with Rosberg leading the qualifying battle 12-3 and scoring 122 points to Schumacher's 46. While acknowledging Rosberg's achievements, however, Haug maintains that Schumacher's performances are no cause for concern.
"I think it's absolutely obvious that Nico has so far extracted what was possible from the car - only on a very few occasions was this not the case," he noted, "I think he learned a lot with Williams and, if you would name one of the top guys that are currently young and experienced in F1, you would certainly mention Nico.
"He is a very good benchmark for probably everybody in the field. You would never know that, because you're only driving one car for one team but it's not easy for anybody to compete against such a guy and Michael does that quite well, not always in qualifying but if you look throughout the season, if you take into consideration that he was not in F1 for three years, we are heading in the right direction and there is certainly not an ultimatum."
Among the fears surrounding Schumacher is that his record will be sullied by a year or more of poor performances, with BBC
pundit Eddie Jordan - the man who gave the German his F1 break - particularly vocal on the subject. Haug, however, insisted that questions about Schumacher's future needed to stop.
"It will take a while [to be first and second], but we're working on it and, no worries, it will take a while, but I think we're heading in the right direction and again, Michael needs nobody to defend him," he concluded, "I think sometimes one should reflect what this guy has achieved, how he handles the criticism, how good he is for F1 and, again, this is not defending, this is just explaining. I'm happy and I think the F1 community should be very happy to have Michael."