Former Renault boss Flavio Briatore, never short of an opinion, has offered his two cents on Michael Schumacher’s comeback performance. While many observers have postulated that Schumacher will fare better as the year progresses, Briatore has suggested that the exact opposite is true.
“I think it will be harder and harder for him,” Briatore recently told Autosprint. “I don’t know how he can recover. I think the competition is fierce. He made the decision to return without thinking that, in four years, the cars and the tyres have changed massively. You can’t come back in such a competitive sport after four or five years.”
Flavio acknowledged that some F1 comebacks have proven to be successful. Alain Prost and Niki Lauda are examples, both having won titles after returning to the series from layoffs. But Schumacher has set himself a daunting task of returning to the sport four years after the beginning of has last active season. “Prost did [it], but only one season had gone by,” Briatore said. “Today, instead, [Schumacher has] found some tough customers, because in F1 there have never been drivers as good as this year. There’s Hamilton, Fernando, Vettel, Rosberg.”
Clearly, the field is populated with more top flight drivers than at any time since the early 1990’s, when Schumacher first entered the fray. Schumi was clearly in the same league with Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet Sr and Nigel Mansell, champions all, but within two years after Schumacher’s first full season in the sport, Senna had been killed, and Prost, Mansell and Piquet had all retired. Schumacher was clearly top dog at that point. His only real serious rival after that, in terms of talent, was Mika Hakkinen, who, it should be remembered, is one of the few drivers to have out-qualified Ayrton Senna in equal equipment.
It should also be noted that Briatore gives full points to Schumi’s team mate Nico Rosberg, rather than just slagging Schumi for being too slow. “I’ve always said that it would be difficult for him to stay ahead of Rosberg,” Briatore said.
The season is long, and only four races have been run. Schumacher still has time to prove that he has what it takes. People will be watching him closely this weekend in Barcelona, as the Mercedes W01 will have undergone significant modifications, including a lengthening of the wheelbase.
Ultimately, there’s only so much blame that can be placed on the car. When Schumacher first joined Ferrari in 1996, the John Barnard car he drove was a dog. Even so, he managed to score a few wins that year, the most spectacular being at Barcelona, in the wet. For much of that race, he was about three seconds per lap quicker than the rest of the field. It was largely owing to that race that he earned the sobriquet of “rainmeister.”