Triple world champion Jackie Stewart has told The Daily Telegraph that he believes Michael Schumacher is little better than half the driver he used to be. Specifically, he has indicated that the German ace is driving at about 60% of his previous performance level.
“Whether it’s age, whether it’s wealth, whether it’s privilege, there’s no doubt in my mind that Michael is not the man he was,” Stewart said. “You don’t step out for three years and come back the same man with the same wattage. He’s probably running a 60W versus a 100W.”
Stewart doesn’t believe the situation is unsalvageable. Referring to Schumacher’s performance level of old, Stewart said, “That can come back. It is too soon to judge.”
Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn has said publicly that the team will introduce a longer wheelbase on the W01 in Barcelona this weekend, in an attempt to increase downforce on the front wheels. This should help correct the car’s terminal understeer, which has been plaguing Schumacher.
“The new car will have the brain over the front wheels,” Stewart pointed out. “Nobody else likes the brain over the front wheels like [Michael] does. When he has that I think we will have to reassess the whole story. If he then doesn’t deliver, then I think he has a problem. But I think he will.”
Stewart then went on to assert that he thinks Schumacher lacks the ability to come to terms with a difficult car. “It appears to me that if a car doesn’t work, Michael’s performance is not as good, whereas others, like Jim Clark, could drive a difficult car. I don’t think Michael has that ability. If he doesn’t deliver in the new car, he’s got a problem.”
Ross Brawn has said previously, however, that when Schumacher was in his prime he had so much raw talent, and was able to adapt to a car’s limitations so quickly, that he actually made it difficult for his engineers to pinpoint a car’s shortcomings. Brawn has continued to stress Schumacher’s adaptability. While this might be an accurate assessment, thus far Schumacher has been unable to exploit this trait to produce results.
Former rival Damon Hill agrees with Stewart that, after four races, it’s reasonable to wonder if Schumacher will ever be able to recapture his old form. “Michael is taking time to find his feet and we haven’t yet seen any of the old Schumacher magic,” Hill said. “Is it still there? I’m sure that’s a question Michael will be asking himself. And it’s one that is starting to become valid after four races.”