Seven time F1 champ Michael Schumacher finished sixth at Suzuka last weekend, and it’s being seen in some quarters as a return to form. There was a day when a sixth for Schumi would have been counted as a failure, but that was then and this is now. Schumacher has struggled in his first comeback season, and has generally lagged behind Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg. At Suzuka, Rosberg outqualified Schumacher, as he has generally done this year, but during the race the two drivers seemed on par in terms of pace.
Schumacher believes that, rather than being a one-off, this as part of a general trend which began in Singapore. As the German ace recently told Autosport, “Honestly I have been on the pace from lap one in Singapore, in a way after just getting on the track. But that was a race where, for whatever reason from a certain point, the performance dropped away significantly. We made some analysis and we saw some reasons, but it was very awkward.”
Schumacher doesn’t attribute this to the development of the car, however. Rather, he’s indicated that the Merc engineers are gaining a better understanding of what the car’s problems have been up to now. “I am not sure we can talk about a step,” he said. “There are some tracks and I remember in Valencia, I just struggled, quite honestly. The harmony with car, tyres and myself did not work very well together, but in general it is reasonable. It is not what I expected or wanted to be, but I see the reasons why and I have good feeling that in future it will be different.”
Word has been leaking from the Merc camp for months that Schumi hasn’t been able to come to terms with the new, narrow Bridgestone front tires, and that his has hobbled his inconsistent comeback performance. Mercedes are wagering that the combination of the new Pirellis that will be used next year, in conjunction with their redesigned chassis, will boost Schumacher back towards the front of the grid.
Meanwhile, former team owner Eddie Jordan, for whom Schumi drove a single race (his first) in 1991 at Spa, had some encouraging words for Schumacher. He’s bee pretty scathing in his remarks regarding Schumi up to now, but recently he told Auto Motor und Sport, “We saw a different Schumacher in Japan. He couldn’t have gone on being as bad as he was in Singapore. Compared with Singapore it was a big improvement. On Friday he looked good. In practice he was faster than (Nico) Rosberg, something we haven’t seen too often. This was another Michael Schumacher we saw at Suzuka, where he has an impressive winning streak. He felt more comfortable. Suzuka is a brilliant drivers’ circuit, and Michael is a brilliant driver. I think we saw something of his old self.”