In the wake of further criticism of his form in F1 since his much-hyped but crushingly underwhelming return to the grand prix grid at the beginning of last year – this time from the sport's supremo, Bernie Ecclestone – Ross Brawn has tipped a 'resilient' Michael Schumacher to roll with the punches and 'be back where we want him' around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya this weekend.
Following an abject performance in the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul just under a fortnight ago – during the course of which he caused a needless collision with Lotus Renault GP rival Vitaly Petrov, requiring a new front wing and taking the chequered flag a distant twelfth for his troubles, with Mercedes Grand Prix team-mate Nico Rosberg well ahead in fifth – Schumacher confessed that 'the big joy is not there right now' [see separate story – click here
Amidst revived rumours that the German legend might elect to cut his losses and walk away again come season's end to prevent further embarrassment, 1992 F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell has mused that 'if things haven't improved by the end of the year, maybe what some people are saying he should take heed'. Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone agrees that the 91-time grand prix-winner's comeback has fallen a long way short of expectations thus far – although he warns against ever writing him off.
“I am surprised and disappointed,” the British billionaire – one of many to have forecast a significant step forward from Schumacher this year – told Swiss newspaper Blick
. “I would like to see him in a Red Bull, though, because you don't know how good the Mercedes is. Compared to his team-mate Rosberg, it doesn't look good – but Michael is a fighter, and he can still win. I'll be the first to cheer when he beats [Sebastian] Vettel.”
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug, however, has sprung to Schumacher's defence, insisting that 'he will succeed again – he has the speed, the talent and the willpower to do so' and telling Salzburger Nachrichten
: “I would not underestimate him or his ability. So far this year, his true capabilities have been clear not in results, but in lap times – yes.”
Brawn concurs with that assessment, reaffirming his unwavering faith in the man whom he helped to engineer to all seven of his world championship crowns at first Benetton and then Ferrari between 1994 and 2004 and contending that even at the comparatively grand old age of 42 now, Schumacher's raw speed, motivation and commitment remain undimmed.
“I am sure the last race wasn't very joyful, and that is what he was referring to,” the Englishman is quoted as having said by AFP
on the eve of this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, a race that 'Schumi' has in the past won on no fewer than six occasions. “When you have a race like that, it's going to knock you back, but I think he's pretty resilient and I'm optimistic this weekend he will be back where we want him.
“[Suggesting he is eyeing retirement again] is definitely taking it too far. I have spoken to him since then (the Turkish Grand Prix). We had a lot of technical discussions, and he was hassling about what we were doing about the car, what is coming along, what improvements we have got – so nothing has changed.
“It is just looking at the things that go wrong. They are quite small, and – although they were all significant in Turkey – until final qualifying, he was incredibly strong but then he had some problems. It is that last little bit that he needs to finish off. If he was slow from the beginning then you would be worried, but I am not worried because he is still very quick. We are optimistic.”