As is typical in any lengthy break between Grands Prix, what often becomes fodder for the press – particularly the tabloids – is comparing the drivers with their team-mates.
As we’d mentioned before, Michael Schumacher and Vitaly Petrov hold the inglorious distinction of being the only drivers with a 4-0 record against them in qualifying.
For Petrov – a rookie – this is understandable. But for Schumacher, this is an alarming statistic, but I don’t believe a surprising result. That being said, Schumacher has never previously been out-qualified by any of his team-mates for four consecutive Grands Prix. Until China.
This result, and a poor result (by expectations) in China has left him totally vulnerable to the masses in the press who are now taking great delight in trying to trash-talk his reputation.
One of his former Ferrari team-mates hasn’t helped proceedings either, telling the Independent: "After the beating he got on Sunday, in conditions in which the old Michael Schumacher excelled, I don’t think he’ll ever come back to his old level.”
Let’s have a guess who this could be… Opinionated team-mate? That’d rule our Felipe Massa. Talking to a British tabloid? That rules out Rubens Barrichello.
Hello, Eddie Irvine!
The British papers have a knack for kicking someone when they’re down, and The Guardian joined the fray by recalling the moment in the post-race press conference when Lewis Hamilton was asked how it had felt to race wheel-to-wheel with his childhood hero.
Jenson Button leaned over and demanded Hamilton "tell the truth" before the pair both laughed, which the paper felt "may have been the unkindest cut of all" for Schumacher.
"The way things look, it would be no surprise to see him bowing out with as much dignity as he can salvage before the Formula One season is very much older," it added.
The Italian press – certainly not known for being kind to Ferrari drivers who underperform – has been typically melodramatic about Schumacher’s lack of success so far.
The sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport asked of Schumacher’s return: “Why did he do it?”, and another Italian sport’s daily Corriere dello Sport likened him to “"an old lion attacked by a group of young and hungry animals".
The broadsheet La Stampa said: "F1 without overtaking? Just ask Schumacher, who was passed constantly", while La Repubblica claimed the German "is no longer in the league of the best Formula One drivers".
I could go on… the newspapers in Germany, Austria, France, Spain and even further afield have either been tearing at his reputation, questioning why he bothered to return, or both.
What’s perhaps failed to be acknowledged is that it’s difficult to be immediately successful having been away from the sport for so long and with so many rule changes having been passed since his retirement.
The cars in which Schumacher won his titles were wide, grooved-tyred, traction control-equipped, all-singing-and-dancing V10 machines. The Mercedes GP W01 has a considerable understeer issue, and Schumacher appeared unable to carry his usual speed into the corners, nor indeed has it seemed that he’s been able to have the traction to exit the corners quickly.
Nico Rosberg, by contrast, appears to have gotten a much better handle on his car than Schumacher.
Has Schumacher’s innate talent disappeared? I highly doubt it. Has he got the potential to replicate the success of his earlier years? Why not?
Would we be delighted to see him give the nay-sayers a single-fingered salute when he notches up a successful race and puts to be the doubts that have been swelling? Absolutely.
[Original image via Bruno Mantovani]
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