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Page last updated at 05:14 GMT, Tuesday, 28 September 2010 06:14 UK

Why Michael Schumacher will never be back to his best

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel just behind him at the Singapore Grand Prix

Highlights - Singapore Grand Prix

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer in Singapore

Singapore represented Michael Schumacher's most woeful performance since his Chinese Grand Prix debacle.

It is now accepted as normal that he qualifies a few tenths of a second behind team-mate Nico Rosberg, as he did here. But a scrappy, slow, incident and error-filled race underlined the fact that Schumacher has got worse, not better, as his first season back from retirement has progressed.

It leads to the inevitable question of whether Schumacher will continue his comeback into 2011 - and has even led some to question the merit of his staggering previous successes.

Looking only at the final qualifying sessions in which both Mercedes have taken part (ie sometimes the top-10 shoot-out, other times the second session), Schumacher has qualified an average of 0.3 seconds off Rosberg, with the younger man having shaded the veteran 12 times to three.

In the races, Schumacher has only 38% of Rosberg's points haul.

Michael Schumacher

Singapore collisions unsettle Schumacher

Even more concerning for Schumacher is that the trend is negative - ie he was closer to his team-mate's pace earlier in the season than he is now.

Splitting the season into the first seven races and the second eight, Schumacher qualified an average of 0.136secs adrift of Rosberg in the first 'half', 0.359secs in the latter 'half'.

In the races he took 51% of Rosberg's points haul in the first seven races, only 21% in the next eight.

In Singapore, having qualified almost 0.4secs slower than Rosberg, his average race pace between the start and when he made his tyre stop was almost 0.9ecs slower than his team-mate's. Both cars were in clear air for most of those 20-odd racing laps and on the same specification of tyre.

Schumacher ran in an early eighth place, made an error exiting Turn Five under pressure from the much faster car of Mark Webber that enabled the Red Bull to pass, then suffered a delay at his pit stop that dropped him a long way down the field.

Shortly thereafter he tried a clumsy pass on Nick Heidfeld's Sauber that resulted in a collision.

There is no question of Schumacher being dismissed but there must surely be serious questions about why he would choose to continue

If this set of statistics belonged to a rookie driver, it is doubtful whether he would retain his drive into the following season.

There is no question of Schumacher being dismissed, of course, but there must surely be serious questions about why he would choose to continue.

Having stood trackside at some stage of every grand prix weekend for the last decade and a bit, witnessed Schumacher at his peak and in his comeback, the visual evidence of the dimming of his skills is obvious.

In his Ferrari years, to see his first lap out of the pits through a corner such as Spa's Pouhon was to witness awe-inspiring genius that left you barely comprehending how what you had just seen could be possible.

He would commit totally to the blind exit, flat-in-top downhill entry corner, a down-change just after turning in and the car would be shuddering on the edge of adhesion, visibly faster than anything else - and Schumacher would make not a single further input because to do so would have sent the car off.

Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher
Schumacher has been behind Rosberg virtually all year

He would sit on this delicate knife-edge until the car was fully loaded up and pointed directly at the apex and then simply power his way out.

To be able to sit immediately on this incredibly narrow balancing point was a skill beyond the reach of his rivals. It is now beyond him, too

See Schumacher in 2010 and he looks nothing like this.

Sure, the Mercedes is way less competitive than most of his Ferraris were but do not forget he produced regular displays of genius in the outclassed Ferraris of 1996 or 2005.

Watching him around the Singapore streets, he looked much as he has done all year.

He can carry a lot of commitment and momentum into the entry of a corner, just like he used to, but between the turn-in point and the apex he is wrestling with the car, rather than feeling and anticipating it the way he used to.

There are more frequent displays of his raw car control than before - precisely because he is not ahead of the car, not anticipating the way he used to but simply reacting to it.

To the untrained eye it looks impressive but actually it is a signal of lack of feel - in much the same way that Vitaly Petrov, say, tends to look more spectacular than the much faster Renault team-mate Robert Kubica. Very rarely were two consecutive Schumacher runs through a Singapore corner the same last weekend.

Schumacher's driving sensitivity is dulled now and his adaptability is not what it was

Schumacher says it is to do with how the gripless control Bridgestone tyres do not allow him the front-end grip to be able to drive in his natural way. There is a logic to this.

With a grippy front end, he would previously get the car pointed early at the apex using his delicate feel to transfer the weight under braking and cornering, pivoting the car around so it changed direction early, with the minimum of steering lock.

The less steering lock, the less speed-sapping front-tyre scrub, the earlier you can get the car pointed at the apex, the earlier you can get on the power. These tyres do not allow you to drive in that way.

But in the past Schumacher has adapted brilliantly to understeering cars. He used to adapt his style corner by corner, lap by lap, to whatever was appropriate.

ANDREW BENSON'S BLOG

He was quite brilliant, for example, in how he could adopt a very aggressive style on his first lap out of the pits to get the tyres quickly up to temperature, then adopt a totally different style as the rubber came up to its correct working range.

Schumacher is keen to try the 2011 Pirelli control tyres, especially on next year's car.

Should that combination give him the front end he says he needs, would the magic return? It would surely improve his performance but why would it see him return to his previous level?

The driving style was a mere expression of a level of feel and balance - a miraculous combination of inner ear sensitivity to lateral accelerations and the co-ordination of that with his limbs - that was on a different level to anyone else's.

His 2010 performances have revealed that sensitivity is dulled now and that his adaptability is not what it was. If he cannot be what he once was, could he bring himself to continue regardless?

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books



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see also
Flawless Alonso wins in Singapore
26 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Singapore Grand Prix as it happened
26 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher may quit F1 - Jordan
12 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher docked 10 grid places
01 Aug 10 |  Formula 1
I'm here to stay, says Schumacher
26 Jun 10 |  Formula 1


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