Two former team mates and one rival have weighed in on the current controversy brewing over Michael Schumacher’s comeback performance. Jos Verstappen, who was Schumacher’s partner at Benetton in 1994, and was also one of the German’s closest chums on the grid during that era, has surprisingly voiced his doubts about the Schumacher’s ability to raise his game. Why? Because it now appears that Schumacher is a mere mortal, an not a demi-god of motorsport.
Verstappen was recently quote on ESPNF1 as saying, “Maybe he has lost his feeling for driving during the three years of his retirement. What we are now seeing is that Schumacher is an ordinary man of flesh and blood and that even he cannot conduct magic.”
This assessment is both realistic and pessimistic. True, Schumacher is only human, as the German ace himself has been quick to point out during his early struggles this year. On the other hand, to assume that he’s “lost his feeling for driving” seems entirely premature.
Another former Benetton team mate, Martin Brundle, is a bit more optimistic. “I believe in his abilities,” he said. “I think he needs more time. If I was seeing the same results in September then I would be worried. The fact that there is no testing is difficult for him.”
“I’m not worried about Schumacher,” said Jacques Laffite, who won six grands prix in the 1970s and 1980s. “The car just does not fit his driving style. You can see on the track that he is struggling with understeer.”
Former rival and double world champ Mika Hakkinen has echoed this sentiment. “I’m pretty certain…that Schumacher will still win a race this season,” Hakkinen said. “I know what drives him, how hard he works when he has set himself a goal…He’s not thinking about his reputation for a single second, but he will be upset if he does not manage to race according to his own expectations. That is the situation at the moment.”
The former Flying Finn also sounded a note of caution, however, saying, “It will be difficult for him. Formula One will not give him any time. It knows no mercy and allows you no excuses…This sport expects total concentration. This is difficult to achieve when you are 41. At that age different things are important in your life.”
Finally, veteran driver Jacques Laffite, who was a fixture on the F1 grid during the 1970s and 1980s, offered a more nuts-and-bolts assessment of Schumacher’s performance: “I’m not worried about Schumacher. The car just does not fit his driving style. You can see on the track that he is struggling with understeer.”
Understeer or not, what’s evident is that Schumi is struggling. The wiser heads in the paddock, including one Ross Brawn, expected this from the outset. It was primarily members of the F1 media who have been sounding alarm bells. Schumacher said he’d returned to the sport after a three-year layoff because he missed the challenge. Well, now he has one. As the season unfolds, we’ll see how well he meets it.