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Prost and Stewart Weigh In on Schumi’s Comeback

Alain Prost: still professorial

Virtually everyone in the F1 world who has a pulse has offered an opinion on Michael Schumacher’s comeback in 2010, and four-time world champ Alain Prost has decided not to be an exception.  At the recent Race of Champions, Prost was quizzed by reporters on a variety of subjects, including Schumi’s 2010 campaign.

Unlike many F1 notables and former stars, Prost has actually come out with a pretty reasonably assessment of Schumacher’s efforts this year.  As reported in Autosport, Prost indicated that the German ace had done quite well this year, all things considered.

“I was not expecting better, because I know it’s difficult to come back after three years stopped,” Prost said.  “What he has done is already very good – almost exceptional.”  Prost should know what he’s talking about.  He himself made a comeback after merely a year’s absence, and managed to win his fourth title.

Lest you think that Schumacher should have been able to do the same after a three year layoff, recall that Prost returned to the sport joining Williams when that team was the class of the field.  Also worth noting: his team mate that year, in 1993, was Damon Hill, a good but not great driver who was guaranteed not to make Prost look bad, even though, on occasion, he was directed by the team to “support” Prost’s race.  Read that as team orders.

Schumacher’s task is certainly more daunting than Prost’s was.  Acknowledging as much, Prost has suggested that Schumi was taking too much for granted in thinking that he could return this year and immediately challenge for the title.  “The target to be world champion in his comeback was really impossible,” he said,  “because the team and the car was not at the same level as Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari.

Prost also offered a savvy and realistic interpretation of Schumi’s motives and his achievement: “It’s a very, very difficult challenge, but it’s part of life, sometimes you need to take a challenge that seems unbelievable. What he has done, I think only he could have done it. But maybe the target was a little bit too high.”

Sir Jackie Stewart, with his favorite driver's aid: a microphone

That pretty much nails it.  If Schumacher made a mistake, it might have been in underestimating just how difficult the task would be.  Even so, Prost recognizes that the driving force behind Schumi’s comeback was his craving of fresh challenge.  Schumacher himself has confessed to finding his “joy” again.  Clearly, this was a man who’d become seriously bored when he walked away from the sport at the end of 2006.  Paddock pundits might wonder why he’s risking his reputation, but Prost understands that the reason is obvious: Schumacher needs another hill to climb.

Meanwhile, contrast Prost’s entirely reasonable opinion (he was, after all, known as “the Professor”) with that of another former multiple champ, Sir Jackie Stewart.  Stewart recently offered his evaluation of Schumi’s efforts as well.  Or rather, he updated his previous comments, as he’s never been shy about keeping the public fully apprised of his thoughts on most everything, including the current safety standards of F1, Prince William’s recent engagement, and his favorite brand of marmalade.

Stewart became the benchmark driver of his era in the late sixties (after the tragic passing of fellow Scotsman Jimmy Clark, who had been the benchmark before him), and he’s long been known as being one of the most clever and articulate drivers in the field, either pas or present, but he also has a reputation for being a bit of a scold.  His most recent comments regarding Michael Schumacher do nothing to dispel this notion.

Unlike Alain Prost, who has given Schumacher full credit for tackling would could be an insurmountable task, Stewart has reiterated that Schumacher’s comeback has been a giant blunder.  The only thing Schumi could do to refute this notion, according to Sir Jackie, as reported on ESPNF1, would be to “come back next year and win the world championship in a resounding fashion.”

But Stewart was skeptical. “I rather think it will be difficult for him to do that,” he said, “not just because Vettel’s there, Webber’s there, Alonso’s there but also because Rosberg is there, never mind Hamilton or Button.”

Stewart then went on to criticize Schumi’s driving technique: “Schumacher says the car doesn’t suit him and it may turn out that with the new tyre next year he will be faster and better but it could well be that Rosberg does it again. It seems Schumacher likes a very pointy car and the brain of the car is over the front wheels. I’ve never felt that’s the best way for a car to be driven. It means that it’s very nervous in the front end and he seems to like that.”

The never microphone-shy Scot also graded Schumacher on unforced errors: “What I don’t approve of is that every weekend he goes off the road. Of course you can afford to go off the road now and again and not hit anything nowadays but nevertheless it means that he is overdriving to the extent that he does fly off the road and I don’t think any of the great drivers have ever done that on a regular basis. He has this year been involved with an awful lot of scrapes not to mention the very big one with Rubens where he just didn’t think it was a dangerous manoeuvre. It was an atrocious piece of attempted bullying and had it not been for someone as good and experienced as Rubens it could have ended in tears.”

Finally, Stewart suggested that the only way that Schumacher could redeem hImself, at least in the eyes of the Queen and greater Scotland, would be to win the title next year.  Said Stewart, “Whilst I’m sorry he’s come back I would have liked to have seen him come back and succeed. But it’s not an easy trip. I think the problem is that he retired too early and he didn’t get it out of his system. If he retires after one more year, he’s either got to do it as world champion or otherwise walk away with his tail between his legs.”

So there you have it, two very different opinions from two very different drivers, each of whom, during his prime, was considered to be the thinking-man’s driver of his era. There the similarity ends, of course.  Personally, I think that Prost probably has given the more realistic appraisal.

It should also be noted that Stewart seems to change his opinions as often as he does his tartan caps.  Two weeks prior to the 2010 season finale at Abu Dhabi he was telling anyone who would listen that he didn’t think Sebastian Vettel would be a worthy F1 champ.  Then, once the young German had secured the highest honor, Stewart was more than willing to heap praise on the lad, calling him a credit the sport.  Go figure.

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