There is no denying that Michael Schumacher’s return to Grand Prix Racing has been quite disappointing.
So far, he has been comprehensively outshone and outperformed by his younger teammate, Nico Rosberg, and has appeared clumsy on many occasions.
But a quick look at the Belgian Grand Prix is enough to show that Michael still has what it takes to stir up the F1 world.
It is obviously easier to assert this after an inspiring drive that saw him rise from the back of the grid to finish an astonishing fifth.
Formula 1 is nonetheless better off with the German legend on the grid. Here is why:
Michael Schumacher battling with Lewis Hamilton in Monaco's narrow and mean streets.
The current problem of Michael Schumacher is that…he is Michael Schumacher! People expect him to do magic tricks behind the wheel of an F1 car, no matter how (un)competitive it is.
Admittedly, Nico Rosberg has beaten him by quite a margin, but Keke’s son is no slouch. It is quite a shame that he has not yet been given the opportunity to show his true potential.
Rosberg definitely has the upper hand in raw qualifying speed, but on race days the gap is less evident. First, Michael has been a great starter this year, almost always making up places on the first lap, and his overall Sunday pace is not shabby at all.
His wet-weather skills are not totally gone either, as displayed in Canada and Silverstone. Too bad he collided with Kobayashi there, otherwise he would have ended up ahead of Nico.
Schumi has also been performing quite well at classic venues like Monaco, Spa and Suzuka. These are tracks where the driver’s input is crucial. The genius is still there, but it only comes in flashes.
In Australia last year, Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari kept Schumacher at bay for half the race before yielding in the very last lap of the Grand Prix.
The Spaniard declared afterwards that Michael’s race craft has really impressed him and that he had to dig deep to contain the furious assaults of the German.
If you were a mid-grid driver, you would certainly cross swords with the seven-time world champion at some point during the season.
Pulling a daring overtaking manoeuvre on Michael has a very special flavour for any up-and-coming driver.
Since his F1 return, Schuey has been battling, sometimes ferociously, with the likes of Petrov, Kobayashi, Buemi or Sutil. And watching these mid-field scraps has been pretty entertaining.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher in Suzuka last year
It has been a frustrating couple of years for Nico Rosberg. By joining Mercedes GP, the 26-year-old certainly expected to quickly grab his first F1 win.
So far, he has only been able to nick the odd podium…and beat a F1 legend fair and square. This may be a small consolation prize, but it does look good on a driver’s resume.
A lot of insiders expected him to have a rough time partnering Michael. They said that the outcome of such confrontation could be damaging for Nico’s future career, but he has proven them wrong. The Monaco resident is now highly rated in the F1 paddock.
Given Mercedes’ current form, he may have to be a little more patient to secure that elusive first win. But did not Jenson Button have to wait for 113 races to be a Grand Prix winner? And look at where he is now.
Schuey’s performance may have been subpar since he has returned, but he has not been driving a supremely-fast car either.
Mercedes certainly hoped to take Brawn GP’s mantle and establish themselves among the frontrunners when they bought out the Brackley-based squad.
The German giant has clearly failed to do so over the past two seasons.
Brawn GP’s intense title chase in 2009 could explain Mercedes’ discreet display in 2010, as the team had to spend a lot of time and resources to stay ahead of Red Bull the year before.
But the latest version of the car has not been better. Rosberg and Schumacher have only been able to scrap for the small points when they could occasionally eye top-three finishes in 2010.
Michael has always claimed that his deal with Mercedes was a three-year program. His tenacity and commitment could eventually pay off next year.
Ross Brawn remains a very brilliant mind and an effective leader. Who knows what tricks he still has up his sleeve?
If Mercedes becomes a title contender, it will be very interesting to see if Schumacher is able to up his game and edge Rosberg out. If not, it will be time to bow out of F1 in style.
Niki Lauda driving a Mclaren in 1984
Double world-champion Niki Lauda was tired of racing when he walked out of F1 in 1979.
Two years later, Niki’s interest for speed was rekindled and he quickly agreed to join the McLaren team for the 1982 F1 season.
It took him only three races to show that he had not lost his ability behind the wheel with a brilliant win at Long Beach, Calif.
In 1984, Lauda was partnering up-and-coming driver Alain Prost.
Although Prost was faster than him, Niki proved to be steadier as he eventually outsmarted the Frenchman to finish half a point ahead of him in the championship.
The Austrian thus became world champion for the third time.
Coming back after three years was probably easier in the 1980s when fitness standards were not as high as today, and gaps between the different cars tended to be bigger.
In his second spell in F1, Niki Lauda was able to make up for his rusty qualifying pace on Sundays and secure GP wins, something Michael has failed to achieve since his return.
But the McLarens were among the best cars in the early 1980s. Give Schumacher a good car and he might just repeat Lauda's feat.
No matter how bad he is struggling, Michael Schumacher remains a brand name in the F1 world, which means that the German legend still attracts a lot of people around the tracks.
For sure, he is no longer the hottest topic in the pit lane like he used to be in his heyday.
The younger generation of aficionados might be now rooting for Vettel or Hamilton, but there are still a lot of Schuey fans out there.
Michael is to F1 what Tiger is to golf. They are fallen Gods but they remain trump cards for both sports. Hopefully, both will not fail to make an impression in 2012.