Michael Schumacher’s decision to return to Formula One racing was undesirable, unnecessary, and unlikely to succeed. It’s difficult to think of a single upside to his return, other than another opportunity for his fans to see him one last time. However, they probably wouldn't want to see him performing as badly as he currently is.
What could he possibly have hoped to achieve?
In the very best case scenario, he would come back to win the world championship easily and, in doing so, he would have embarrassed the sport because they hadn’t developed any new talent since he left.
Not that it’s a likely outcome now.
A worse scenario would be that he came back and was completely outclassed by everyone on the field. He would leave after one or two races knowing that he was absolutely past it.
That hasn’t happened either.
Schumacher is facing the worst possible outcome from his comeback. Mediocrity. He has been reduced to a mid-field racer—one of those who we only ever see being overtaken or if they break down or crash.
He deserves better.
Schumacher is as good as any driver ever to take to the track. His statistics are staggering. He has the most championships (seven), the most consecutive championships (five), the most race wins (91), most pole positions (68), and the most fastest laps (76)—the list is endless.
Why would he risk that legacy?
A big bag of cash helped. Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reported his contract with Mercedes GP at US$32 million per year—not a bad incentive to get out of bed in the morning. The chance to race with a German team (sort of) and work with Ross Brawn again would have sweetened the deal.
But, the cars of 2010 are vastly different to those that Schumacher drove before his retirement in 2006.
The aero packages are vastly different which, coupled with tyre changes, makes the cars significantly different to drive. Most of his competitors have had a year to get used to the changes.
And it shows.
Schumacher has been mediocre at best and he has been comprehensively outclassed by his younger teammate. Nico Rosberg has out-qualified and outraced his more illustrious teammate in each of the four races to date in 2010.
Schumacher has struggled to come to terms with the car. In China, he was complaining that he couldn’t get the power down coming out of the corners. Rosberg was having no such problems. Maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
There is no sadder sight in sport than a champion who didn’t know when to quit and Schumacher is rapidly falling into that category. The season isn’t over and it’s hard to imagine that a driver as good as Schumacher will turn things around sooner or later.
It may not be time to hit the panic button just yet, but it might be wise to dust it off and give it a quiet test—just in case.