Niki Lauda has urged record-breaking F1 legend Michael Schumacher to 'be honest with himself' and seriously consider whether to persist with his thus far ill-fated comeback into a third season in 2012 – suggesting that the German is far from 'relaxed' and stressing that 'no top racing driver enjoys being beaten'.
Following an underwhelming return to top flight competition with Mercedes Grand Prix in F1 2010 – finding himself routinely outpaced and outperformed by young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg
– Schumacher called upon his critics for patience, asking to only be evaluated on his form this season, once he was properly settled back into the groove.
However, the opening eleven races of F1 2011 have thus far evinced no real progress or improvement, with Rosberg leading ten-one in the qualifying stakes – and 'Schumi', indeed, having failed even to crack the top ten on four occasions, whilst his team-mate has never once missed out – and by 48 points to 32 in the title standings. And the uncharacteristic errors that blighted the seven-time world champion's challenge last season remain.
For the first time earlier this week, Schumacher conceded that 'if anything, I am the problem', opining that 'it is a fact that I am a bit more relaxed than before, and I do not know if my mindset is right for this team' [see separate story – click here
] – but Lauda contends that the most successful driver in the sport's history is in truth not 'relaxed' at all, and that it is time to face the facts.
“I have always been a big supporter of Michael's comeback – because I did it, and I know what it's all about,” the Austrian three-time F1 World Champion told Motor Sport Magazine
, alluding to his own 'second career' at the highest level from 1982 to 1985, and recollecting how after finishing a distant tenth in the last of those seasons – 59 points adrift of title-winning McLaren
team-mate Alain Prost – he knew it was time to call it a day.
“Last year, we understood he needed time to get used to these different cars, plus the handicap of not being able to test and all the rest of it. I felt that this year was the last chance for the comeback to happen properly if it was going to – and this year is the same as last...
“I think every sportsman – if he wants to perform as well as Schumacher did in the past – has to be honest with himself. He has kept saying that he needs more time, blah, blah, blah, and he presents himself as the relaxed guy who's really enjoying it – but inside he's not relaxed at all, because no top racing driver enjoys being beaten. If he really were as relaxed as he claims to be, then Mercedes should tell him to retire!
“You don't do F1 for fun. In the end, he has to ask himself, 'Can I do it or not?' I honestly don't think it will work out for Michael now; when you want to go quicker, you try everything – and when you've tried everything and you still don't make it, that's it. I'm sure he's still trying, but one day he will realise that he can't make it, and then he will take a decision.”
Ever his staunch defender, however, Schumacher's manager Sabine Kehm has again been quick to rubbish speculation that the 91-time grand prix-winner will cut short his three-year agreement with Mercedes, arguing that commitment to the cause is emphatically not
“He is full of passion for the project and regards it as an exciting challenge to build something big together with Mercedes”, she told Bild
. “That it is sometimes tough only encourages him more. Someone who will soon celebrate their 20th anniversary in F1 knows that perseverance is what makes the difference.”