FIA President Jean Todt – a man who knows record-breaking F1 legend Michael Schumacher better than most – has stated that the German is not 'relaxed' as he likes to make out, and nor is he 'a strong robot' like he has oft been depicted, but rather 'a very human, very fragile person'.
Although his most recent two outings in Japan and Korea have bucked the trend somewhat – yielding solid sixth and fourth-place finishes respectively – Schumacher's return to top flight competition this season following three years away in 'retirement' has in general been a distinctly underwhelming one, with the seven-time F1 World Champion and 91-time grand prix-winner struggling to make much of an impact upon a sport he once utterly dominated.
Not only has the Kerpen native failed to make the podium for Mercedes Grand Prix in 17 races to-date in 2010, but he has also found himself routinely outpaced by team-mate Nico Rosberg, notably trailing his younger compatriot by 66 points to 122 and a staggering 15-2 in the qualifying stakes.
Worse still, he has also found himself vilified for embarrassing run-ins with ex team-mate Rubens Barrichello in Hungary and Korea – whilst all the time maintaining a relaxed outer façade and insistent that he is unconcerned by his off-colour performances and fully-focussed on rebounding in 2011.
However, Todt – who developed a strong and close working bond with 'Schumi' in the role of Ferrari team principal in the late 1990s and early part of the new Millennium – argues that the 41-year-old is in fact concealing his true emotions about his crushingly disappointing comeback from public view and offering up only a smokescreen to the wider world.
“I don't think he is so relaxed, but he is a very proud guy and you need to know him very well before he will speak to you and tell you exactly what he feels,” the Frenchman – who once described Schumacher as 'like a son' – is quoted as having said by Reuters
. “He is protecting himself, which I can understand; he is a very human, very fragile person, and he's not at all this strong kind of robot as he was portrayed very often in his career.
“Michael is a very close friend and somebody I respect highly. He is a very strong-minded guy and he chose to come back... I'd rather see him in F1 than riding a motorbike – I think it is much safer. He thought very carefully about the opportunity of coming back, [but] however talented you are, if you stop for three years and if you don't drive the best car, it will not be easy – which is the case. He made the choice to come back; he may decide to stop. Is he putting in all his heart and all his effort? The answer is yes.”
Some inside the grand prix paddock, indeed, are adamant that Schumacher will stop again come the end of the campaign to avoid the risk of doing any more damage to his once so glittering legacy and reputation – but in the hope that Mercedes proves capable of building him a front-running car for 2011, Todt reckons his former protégé may yet triumph again. And even if he doesn't, the 64-year-old argues, he doesn't need
“What is certain is that he is a seven-time world champion with 91 wins, and nobody will take that away,” he urged. “The day he decides to stop, he will either not have improved on that or he will have increased those successes, but that will remain on his career CV.
“If his team-mate is winning grands prix and he is not, probably it will be more difficult – but for him, his team, the sport and all the people who are supporting him, I hope he is in a position where he is again driving a winning car.”