Why post-Spain criticism of Schumacher is wrong

It's all smiles now, but will 2012 be his final year? ( Mercedes AMG)

15 May 2012 by Daniel Chalmers

Michael Schumacher has come under fire following a poor Spanish GP, but it's dreadful luck rather than poor pace that has been his main issue so far in 2012.

Much has been made of the fact that statistically Schumacher has made his worse ever start to a season with only two points to his name so far. However when you look beyond the maths, it’s clear to see that his results don’t reflect his actual form.

It would also be a bit rich to criticise Schumacher, when apart from his Chinese GP win, team mate Nico Rosberg isn’t actually having that great a season either.

Looking at the season so far the seven time world champion's raw pace has been by far the best it has been since his comeback. In Australia he qualified fourth behind the two McLarens and Romain Grosjean.

In Malaysia he qualified a brilliant third and was only 0.172 seconds away from pole position. He then managed third on the grid again in China, which turned into a front row start after Lewis Hamilton's five place grid penalty.

Despite this good pace a number of misfortunes have prevented Schumacher from getting the results he deserves. Certainly a couple of podiums have been lost.

In Melbourne he was running third keeping Sebastian Vettel behind him until he suffered a gearbox failure. In Malaysia Romain Grosjean touched him on the first lap which resulted in a spin, which put him right down the order.

A loose wheel nut in China dashed Schumacher chances of a podium (© Mercedes AMG).

In China he was running in second place but after his first pit stop his right wheel nut became loose due to a mistake in the pit stop. We will never know what he could have achieved in that race. Chances are Rosberg may not have had things quite so easy.

Bahrain was yet another missed opportunity. Due to an issue with DRS Schumacher failed to make it past Q1. On most tracks DRS can be worth over a second on a qualifying lap and more so for Mercedes with their super-DRS, so had it been working normally there is no doubt Schumacher would have easily made the cut.

This was a shame as Mercedes had a car capable of challenging for pole position, and Schumacher had an opportunity for a great result from the front end of the grid.

From the back (after a gearbox penalty) he could only climb up to tenth. However this is more due to the nature of the tyres. It’s extremely difficult to race through the field and nurse these difficult Pirelli tyres at the same time.

In Spain this weekend from a similar position Lewis Hamilton only managed two places better in what was a very quick car. It’s now very hard to drive from the back to the front due to the delicate nature of the Pirelli tyres. In the circumstances these were both brilliant comeback drives from Hamilton and Schumacher respectively.

Schumacher runs in to the back of Senna at the Spanish GP, ending both their races.

Ultimately in Spain this weekend Schumacher does have to take a fair amount of blame for his race ending incident with Bruno Senna. However throughout his career he has had racing incidents. It’s always been a bit of a weakness. It should also be said it’s the first real error he has made this year.

Unfortunately the subsequent five place penalty at the next race at Monaco couldn’t possibly come at a worse track. Therefore Monaco is likely to prove another race where a great result won’t come even if Michael is quick.

Whilst Schumacher’s season might be under the microscope after a lack of results, you have to question Rosberg’s performances so far this year.

He may have finally won a race in China and in fairness to him he did drive brilliantly throughout that weekend. However that breakthrough race merely acts as a cover-up for what has otherwise been a series of average race weekends. The victory has helped him escape the criticism, that his team-mate has started facing in the aftermath of the Spanish GP.

Rosberg may have won in China, but he's been far from perfect in qualifying (© Mercedes AMG).

Rosberg also had a chance to challenge for pole position in Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain. It was certainly within the car’s capabilities on those weekends. However in each of those qualifying sessions he made costly errors on the decisive lap.

In Sepang he locked up going into the first corner, and went a little bit wide heading onto the long back straight. In Bahrain he tried to take too much speed into the final corner and lost a chunk of time putting him down in fifth place.

In terms of the actual races both Australia and Malaysia proved a nightmare for Nico. His races in Bahrain and Spain were solid but you certainly couldn’t call them particularly spectacular.

To win the championship you need to perform brilliantly consistently throughout the year, not just at one single event. Plus Rosberg hasn’t suffered the miserable luck that Michael has endured so far.

It’s certainly fair to say that Schumacher isn’t the same driver as he was at Benetton and Ferrari. The fact that there is far less testing, and the tyres are no longer tailor made for him, have taken away a couple of the factors that made him so successful. Plus there is of course much stronger opposition than he had back in his Ferrari championship winning days.

Schumacher's shown strong pace with third on the grid in China (© Mercedes AMG).

However he is still a decent driver. On a weekend where the car is working really well (such as it did in China) and everything goes smoothly, there is no doubt Schumacher can get podiums and win a race or two. He has already proved this year that in a decent car he does still have good speed.

He is unlikely to win in Monaco (due to the five place grid drop) but he has every chance in Canada and Valencia. Montreal is effectively a series of long straights connected by chicanes. With Mercedes’ super DRS and Michael’s previous in Montreal this writer is predicting Schumacher to win that race. You read it here first!

Valencia is another track that features long straights where there will be plenty of DRS usage and where Mercedes can potentially be very strong.

Ultimately Mercedes have to ask themselves if Schumacher can win them a championship as that is what the team is striving for. In a great car it’s certainly still very feasible.

However he doesn’t seem to be able to transcend a car that is off the pace like he could do in his peak, in the same way we are seeing Fernando Alonso currently achieving at Ferrari.

However in fairness looking at the current evidence Mercedes should be asking the same questions of Rosberg too.

With every mistake McLaren make the prospects of tempting Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes will increase. There are also the likes of Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg at Force India who have the potential to do very well in a top team, and would be good long term options for the team.

However if Schumacher’s luck improves and he can get the results his pace has been promising, there won’t be any reason why he won’t deserve to stay on the grid with Mercedes in 2013.

Although you sense that Mercedes are going to have to try to get one of the current proven top drivers like Hamilton if they are to have a better chance at winning the title. Incidentally Lewis has not yet renewed his McLaren contract. If Mercedes want him, now has to be the time to act. A bold and difficult decision may need to be made this year even, if it has to come at the expense of a capable driver.

Both Schumacher and Rosberg may need to be looking over their shoulders in equal measure.

You can follow Daniel Chalmers and The F1 Times on Twitter.