Ross Brawn has given a qualified vote of confidence to Michael Schumacher. Rumors have been rampant recently that Schumi would be gone at the end of the 2010 season. Some have suggested that Adrian Sutil is waiting in the wings to replace him. This makes a certain amount of sense, if you accept the premise that Schumi will abbreviate his comeback tour, which is currently scheduled for three seasons. It’s generally agreed that Sutil deserves a better ride than the Force India, and his current contract is up for renewal. It’s also assumed that should Mercedes decide to replace Schumacher, they would prefer to keep the driver roster all-German.
But Schumacher has insisted all along that he has no intention of giving up the fight so easily, and one is inclined to believe him. And now Ross Brawn has more or less confirmed that Schumi will return for at least one more season. “What sense would it make at that stage of his comeback to pack in his job?” Brawn recently told the official Formula 1 website. “He’s not going to do it. Be sure of that!”
And while many have insinuated that Schumacher is over the hill, Brawn has defended him, saying that the German’s uneven performance this year has largely been down to tires.
“Michael’s driving style depends on a strong front tyre that can withstand his hard braking and the steering manoeuvres that he prefers. Nico has simply understood better how to handle these front tyres,” said Brawn. “I have to say that this year’s front tyre is very uncommon. That stems from the fact that the FIA wanted to promote KERS and had asked Bridgestone to develop tyres that would fit a certain weight distribution and thus create a specific tyre characteristic.”
Brawn was also quick to say that he thought that Schumacher had lost none of his old skills. “If you take the telemetry data in fast corners or his reaction time when the car breaks away, I don’t see any difference,” he said. “There he’s still the old Michael. But in the slow corners he cannot make full use of the tyres as Nico can. Nico has put the bar very high in this respect. But I guess that’s okay for Michael as he clearly sees where he has to improve. I predict that in 2011 we will again see the true Michael – when we’ve delivered him a better car.”
However, his supportive remarks were tempered to a degree when he was asked if Schumacher would be retained purely on the basis of his performance if he weren’t…well…Schumacher. “To be honest, probably not,” said Brawn. But he qualified this telling remark by saying, But because we know Michael, we know that there is still a lot to come because Michael is in many fields more talented than others – in driving and in the cooperation with the team. The team are very happy with the way Michael is contributing. If he were a rookie we surely would have asked ourselves if he has the capacity to advance. With Michael we know that he has.”
Fair enough. Schumacher’s performance relative to Nico Rosberg’s has almost been the scale of Vitaly Petrov’s relative to Robert Kubica’s, at Renault. The difference, of course, is that Petrov has never proven himself in F1, and no one really knows what his performance ceiling might be. Also, as he’s a rookie, it’s likely that the technical input he can offer his team is fairly minimal compared to what his more experienced team mate can provide.
With Schumacher, the case is just the opposite. Brawn has every reason to believe that Schumacher can up his game if they can sort out the car and tire situation next year. Moreover, car development has always been one of Schumacher’s strengths, and word from the paddock is that the Merc crew are gaining much from his feedback.
Of course, in the end, being a great development driver isn’t enough to secure your place on a team. Eventually, he’ll have to deliver points. Ross Brawn is convinced that Schumacher will do just that in 2011.