pundit Eddie Jordan believes that for all that he might publicly insist he is fully focussed on 2011 now, Michael Schumacher has become so 'disillusioned' with his underwhelming comeback to the top flight this year that he will walk away from Mercedes Grand Prix come season's end – and Ross Brawn might go too.
Schumacher's much-hyped and eagerly-anticipated return to the grid in F1 2010 has far from lived up to expectations, with the German legend – who in his heyday from 1991 to 2006, clinched a record-breaking seven world championship crowns, 91 grand prix victories, 154 podium finishes and 1,369 points – invariably struggling to keep pace with young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg, finding himself comprehensively out-qualified thus far by the margin of twelve-two and embarrassingly outscored by 112 points to 46 as he has failed to get to grips with either the current tyres or the unique characteristics of the Mercedes MGP W01.
That is a far cry from his former brilliance and a long way short of his stated pre-season goal of fighting for an incredible eighth drivers' title, and the common perception is that at 41 years of age now and following a three-year hiatus from active competition, 'Schumi' is no longer the invincible force he once was – in fact, sadly, rather the opposite, proving to be all-too-often listless in battle.
One occasion on which he was far from listless in battle, of course, was Hungary, when Schumacher found himself widely vilified for driving former team-mate Rubens Barrichello almost into the pit wall along the start/finish straight as the pair duelled over the final point on offer at in excess of 200mph, earning him the censure of FIA stewards and a resultant ten-place grid penalty for the following race.
The Brazilian later claimed that whilst he hoped to go to heaven one day, he does not wish for that day to come anytime soon – and such was the fall-out from his actions, that the Kerpen native was subsequently forced into making a public apology of sorts, rather a turn-up for the books given that he had rarely accepted any blame for the questionable moves he pulled off during his erstwhile career.
Jordan – the man who gave Schumacher his big break at the highest level just under two decades ago in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, and who correctly forecast that he would rejoin the fray this season [see separate story – click here
] – contends that the Hungaroring incident has had just as profound an effect on his former charge's mindset as has his lack of pace in 2010, and the Irishman suggests that as such, the end could well now be nigh.
“I've a hunch something fundamental has changed,” Jordan told BBC Sport
. “I believe he is disillusioned and thinking of quitting. There are too many indications that now give me the feeling he is reconsidering his commitment to his three-year contract. There is far too much movement in the Mercedes motorhome involving managers of drivers from other teams.
“I have heard rumours that [team principal] Ross Brawn's continuity with the team is in doubt, which would be a huge blow. It's also rumoured that as a result of the lack of performance of the Mercedes car, expectations for next year within the team are not as high as they were at first.
“The Barrichello incident had an effect – he hadn't realised driver standards had changed so much, and that has surprised Michael. My guess is Michael has probably come to the conclusion that, despite his undoubted brilliance, just like this year he's not going to be able to drag that into being a winning car [in 2011].”
Jordan went on to point to an interview Schumacher gave a couple of weeks ago in which he accepted that he is up against the laws of 'physics', asking 'how can a 41-year-old be as good as a top level 23 or 24-year-old?' and confessing that he didn't know if he was still as quick as he was when he initially hung up his F1 helmet at the end of 2006 [see separate story – click here
Brawn has asserted that there will be 'no changes to the drivers' in 2011. The Englishman is a close ally of Schumacher's, having played a key role in engineering him to all seven of his world championship trophies firstly at Benetton and subsequently Ferrari between 1994 and 2006, but it is understood that he is presently not seeing eye-to-eye with Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug regarding the future direction of the Brackley-based outfit.
The Stuttgart manufacturer is under intense pressure in Germany, finding itself having to blame the lack of performance on the car rather than Schumacher – despite Rosberg having succeeded in achieving three podiums with it – due to the multiple world champion's hero status in his homeland.
Schumacher's official spokeswoman Sabine Kehm has echoed Brawn in vehemently denying that the driver will not see out his three-season agreement with the team, insisting that he remains wholly committed to the cause.
“Michael has no plans to quit at the end of the year,” she underlined. “He is fully geared for next year. When he entered into the whole comeback scenario, he was fully informed about the situation with the car. That's why Michael chose it to be a three-year contract – you cannot expect to come back and win straightaway in that situation.
“That's why he is not frustrated at all. Obviously he would have wished that the developments to the car improved its performance more than they did, but it is a three-year project to build a winning team and he is in the middle of that process.”