Peter Sauber insists that Michael Schumacher still has an important role to play in F1 even though he has been unable to replicate the kind of form that took him to seven titles since his return to the grid last year.

Sauber played a key part in Schumacher making his debut in the sport 20 years ago, when his team put up the ?150,000 that ensured the German was able to join Jordan for the Belgian Grand Prix.

Speaking ahead of the weekend where Schumacher will celebrate the anniversary of his maiden appearance, Sauber insisted that the Mercedes driver was still an important figure on the grid despite his current problems and said he felt the decision to come out of retirement had been beneficial for the sport as a whole.

The veteran team owner also insisted that he was sure that Schumacher would remain on the grid for at least more season to see out the three-year deal he agreed with Mercedes.

"I would still say that Michael is an asset to Formula 1, even if he does not fight for victory," he told the German news agency SID. "My impression at the moment is that he is coping well with a difficult situation.

"I don't want to comment on speculation about his future, but I am sure he will be driving next year and will fulfill his contracts. What comes next, I don't know but then again, I never expected him to make a comeback in the first place."

Sauber also revealed more information about the way in which Schumacher had come to get his chance in F1 which included the revelation that the German had no idea that his team owner had helped to fund his debut drive until he was about to retire from the sport in 2006.

"I often get asked about Michael's first race for Jordan, but he himself had no idea how it was exactly until 2006," he said. "Michael was part of the Sauber-Mercedes team alongside Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendinger in sportscars and our plan was to enter F1 with Mercedes in 1993, but it didn't happen.

"We paid ?150,000 for him to make his debut and he was surprised when he found out about it at the Brazilian Grand Prix when he was about to retire. He sent me a helmet but I don't expect more gratitude for it as Michael became a legend due to his own abilities.

"He has made it clear that being the fastest driver isn't enough. Frentzen was also extremely talented, possibly more talented that Michael, but Schumacher always worked hard, was ambitious, was mentally and physically strong and always kept himself in great shape."

Sauber also said he didn't expect there to come a time when Schumacher would make a return to the team where he was making his name prior to launching himself onto the F1 scene.

"I doubt that it would ever happen," he said. "I cannot imagine Michael in a Sauber."


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