Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has pondered the continuing 'motivation' behind Michael Schumacher's presence on the grid with Mercedes Grand Prix, following a torrid season in 2010 and what looks to be shaping up to be an equally unsatisfying campaign in 2011 – as he mused that the most successful driver in the history of the sport is not necessarily the all-conquering force many hold him to be.
Schumacher returned to F1 last season following a three-year hiatus, having originally retired back in 2006 – but the record-breaking seven-time world champion's comeback was not the celebrated one many had anticipated.
That led some to surmise that he may cut short his three-year deal with Mercedes and hang up his helmet again at the end of 2010, but the German legend is staying put for 2011 and determined to regain the top step of the rostrum for an incredible 92nd time at the comparatively grand old age of 42.
The early signs following testing of the new MGP W02, however, are that Schumacher will – initially at least – be battling to avoid the Q1 cut rather than fighting for the podium, and former title rival Villeneuve wonders how he continues to motivate himself in such circumstances.
“I followed his return with attention and he is still fit and fast,” the French-Canadian – who has repeatedly attempted to rejoin the F1 fray himself in recent years – told French sports newspaper L'Équipe
, adding that 'expectations were too high' ahead of Schumacher's comeback.
“Everyone thought he was going to be a second faster than [Mercedes team-mate] Nico Rosberg, but when he was at Ferrari he was only a tenth in front of Rubens Barrichello. Over time, in people's minds, a tenth became a second. It took him (Schumacher) some time but he didn't do too badly – but last year he was smiling even after a bad result. What is his real motivation?”
'JV' spoke in the same interview, meanwhile, of his admiration for Ferrari star Fernando Alonso – the man he tips to claim the 2011 crown – and his distaste for the current trend of rather bland, anodyne 'Tilkedromes' replacing some of the sport's traditionally great circuits on the F1 calendar, echoing views expressed by the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart and Mark Webber [see separate story – click here
“[Alonso] is a Spanish bull, nothing can stop him,” the 39-year-old reflected. “He always gets the best out of each situation and has shown he can win with an average car and bring a team forward all by himself.
“These modern circuits, though, you see nothing, the grandstands are too far from the track. There is no sense of speed – you don't appreciate the drivers' risks. Anyone playing a video game thinks he can do the same thing.”