Daimler chairman Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche insists that Michael Schumacher's age has had nothing to do with the Mercedes team's poor results over the past few years - and played no part in the German's impending departure at the end of the season.
Since taking on the mantle of the Three Pointed Star the year after winning the F1 world title as Brawn GP, the Ross Brawn-led squad has won just one race, courtesy of Nico Rosberg in Shanghai this season, but Zetsche maintains that neither driver is to blame for the lack of performance, admitting that hiring Schumacher in the first place probably placed unnecessary expectation on the team's shoulders.
The seven-time champion has yet to beat his younger team-mate in terms of the championship, although 2012 has seen the pair at their closest in three seasons, and has been at the centre of several notable incidents, most recently his rear-ending of Jean-Eric Vergne under the lights in Singapore. Schumacher has just a single podium to his name from the 53 races he has contested since his return from a three-year exile, inherited on the streets of Valencia this year, but Zetsche insists that he has no worries with the veteran's form.
“It would be completely wrong to blame either Nico or Michael, as we have not been able to provide either driver with a car that was able to win the majority of races in the past three years,” he told Germany's Bild
in the wake of the decision to sign Lewis Hamilton to partner Rosberg from 2013, “With the engine, we were competitive, but not with the car.
Although Mercedes finished fourth in last year's constructors' table and had high hopes for 2012, particularly following the decision to run a trick double DRS system on its W03, the Brackley-based operation finds itself in danger of being overhauled for fifth by the privateer Sauber squad, having fallen a long way behind fourth-placed Lotus.
The recruitment of Hamilton from McLaren underlines its determination to bounce back next year but, with Rosberg already locked into a long-term deal, the move means that there is no longer room for Schumacher.
"I called Michael on the day the decision was announced to speak with him, and it was a very good discussion,” Zetsche noted.
With the possibility of beating former team-mate Rubens Barrichello's record haul of F1 starts now receding, and few options - beyond a fanciful interest from Sauber - on the table, Schumacher could be heading into the final six races of a decorated career from Suzuka this weekend. He has already claimed, however, that his motivation and drive will not lessen between now and mid-November.
“My motivation is completely intact after the news last week, especially because Suzuka is one of the season's highlights for me," he insisted, despite knowing that he faces a ten-place grid penalty for the accident with Vergne, "The circuit has sections that challenge you like nowhere else, and the fans love motor racing - it is fun to feel their passion."