He might have endured what was by-and-large a frustrating F1 comeback campaign – and one that culminated in near-decapitation in Abu Dhabi last weekend – but rival team bosses have warned that it would be 'foolish' indeed to wrote off Mercedes Grand Prix star Michael Schumacher in 2011.
Having gradually begun to re-establish himself as a competitive and credible performer at the highest level over the final third of the season, Schumacher's maiden outing in Abu Dhabi certainly went off with a dramatic bang, albeit not the kind he might have been hoping for [see separate story – click here
]. Nonetheless, as the dust now starts to settle on what has been a truly remarkable year in general, a more accurate assessment of his return can be made.
With the German legend having seemingly finally silenced all of the doubters who claimed he would not be back for another crack of the whip in 2011 by way of his late-season upturn in form, 'Schumi' will clearly be hoping for considerably better results next year than he achieved this time around.
Not only do four of Mercedes' rival team principals contend that he can do just that, but they also argue that the unflattering statistics that have blighted the 41-year-old's comeback thus far will not stain in the slightest his incredible, record-breaking accomplishments in the sport.
“Michael is a friend, and I have such respect for him that we discussed [his return] between us, at the end of last year,” revealed Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. “Seven-time world champion is an achievement that I don't think anyone else will achieve, at least in the short-term.”
“When you've won seven world championships and over 90 grands prix, it's a hell of a ballsy thing at 40 years of age to say 'Okay, I'll come back and take on the current best of the crop',” added Domenicali's Red Bull Racing counterpart Christian Horner, at just 37, four years Schumacher's junior. “You've got to admire the guy for taking that decision in coming back.
“He's not been in the best car and I'm sure he won't be satisfied with his season, but he's a determined competitor and I think it's good to have him back in F1. It would be nice to see him in a quicker car, so long as it was just behind us, and I'm pleased he's around again next year. It makes me feel young!”
Those sentiments are echoed by McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh and Williams F1 chairman Adam Parr, who are both convinced Schumacher has the ability to bounce back next season and remind everybody of just what it was that made him by some margin the most successful driver in F1 history from 1991 to 2006.
“Let's be frank, as a seven-time world champion he will be disappointed with this season, of that I'm quite sure,” mused Whitmarsh. “He's a winner, he's won many, many races – but it's [about] a driver, a team, a car. We all play a role in our end success and lack of success, so I think anyone who writes Michael off and believes that he can't be more competitive next year will be foolish.
“Mercedes have a great heritage; they are still strong partners of us and were the heroes this time last year [as Brawn GP]. They've had a tough year but there are good people there, it's a good team and they've got two good drivers, one of whom has had a disappointing year. I think none of us here underestimate what they are capable of doing together next year – but there's no reason why [Schumacher] can't come back very strongly the following season.”
“I think it's completely up to Mercedes and Michael Schumacher to determine how they see his career and how he's done,” opined Parr. “Clearly he's a seven-time world champion and an exceptionally talented, brilliant driver without any question at all – and nothing that he's done this year changes his incredible achievements.”