The F1 fraternity may have gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of his debut in the top flight as it reconvened at Spa-Francorchamps, but Michael Schumacher still found time to hit out at those who claim he should call time on his career.
The German took his first competitive laps in an F1 car at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, having been plucked by the Jordan team to replace the incarcerated Bertrand Gachot, and obviously went on to storied heights, with seven world titles and new records for victories, podiums, pole positions and fastest laps, but his return from retirement two years ago has not received as positive a response as much of the rest of his career.
Saddled with Mercedes entries that have failed to reach the heights of the single Brawn machine that preceded them, Schumacher has yet to better fourth place, and critics throughout the media continue to call on him to head back into retirement before he completely tarnishes the legacy he built up over his first 15 seasons. The seven-time champion, however, insists that he intends to see out the third year of his deal with the Three-Pointed Star and wishes the criticism would stop.
"Of course, I would prefer not to have to deal with it and that some people would keep their mouths shut," he told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
, "On one hand, I know that these people are paid to open their mouths but, if everyone who is driving on my level had to quit, there wouldn't be many of us left."
Insisting that no-one would have foreseen the difference in results between the Brawn and Mercedes teams, Schumacher admitted that he too had bigger expectations of his return, but maintained that a breakthrough was always just around the corner.
"We always feel this," he told journalists at Spa-Francorchamps, "It is what it is. We have to face the reality and the reality is that, at the moment, we are sort of the fourth strongest team and the gaps to the front are unfortunately too big unless there are unusual circumstances. Maybe this track potentially suits us a little bit more, but the gaps are too big to really make an impression on the guys up front, Seventh and eighth [is] the possible target that we can achieve and that's what we are going to aim for."
Spa has generally been a good circuit for Schumacher, who not only made his debut in the Ardennes, but also took his first F1 victory there a year later, with Benetton in 1992.
"I often call it my 'living room' and a very particular place that lots of things, great things and special things, have happened," he noted, "It is obviously a perfect scenario to celebrate this moment."
Admitting that he didn't know whether he could compete with the sport's big names when he entered the F1 arena, Schumacher says that he has few regrets when looking back over 20 years at the pinnacle of motorsport.