LONDON, April 29 – Michael Schumacher and his Mercedes team plan to gamble on a heavily-revised 'new' car next week in a bid to re-ignite his F1 comeback at the Spanish Grand Prix – and save their season.The 41-year-old seven-times world champion has been outpaced and outraced by his Mercedes team-mate fellow-German Nico Rosberg in all four of the season-opening flyaway races.
But, according to his long-time friend and team boss Ross Brawn, he remains determined to defy his critics – and the march of time – with a fresh bid to recapture the old magic in Barcelona.
Brawn, the bespectacled boffin who has been the pit-wall maestro behind all seven of Schumacher’s world titles and who master-minded Briton Jenson Button’s title success last year, said: "It’s foolish to say Michael is where he wants to be, but he’s very determined to succeed.
"I think these frustrations are just going to make him try even harder. We’ve not had a fantastic start, but we are still in there because no-one else is really dominating and there is plenty of opportunity yet."
Few observers expected to see Schumacher so comprehensively upstaged by a driver 17 years his junior in a new team built around the Red Baron’s comeback this season, but Rosberg has done so in dazzling style.
"Nico’s very close to winning a race," said Brawn of the 24-year-old son of original flying Finn and former champion Keke Rosberg.
"He just needs things to fall into place, but that will come. I’m sure he will definitely do it and I think Michael will when we get the car sorted.
"He is so determined and you can see that in his driving. The bits where it’s not quite working are not because of (lack of) skill or bravery, it’s because the technique needs tuning and the car needs tuning."
Remarkably, Rosberg has scored 50 points to Schumacher’s 10 in four outings in Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia and China, but Brawn believes that a new chassis, with aerodynamic revisions, will assist the former champion in regaining the form of his halcyon days.
The upgraded ‘new’ car will have a longer wheelbase, to improve the weight distribution, and should help Schumacher find the sharp, responsive performance he wants and ease his tyre-wear problems.
Brawn said: "The one he had for the first few races got damaged (notably in Australia) and we repaired it as best we could, at the tracks, but now we are back at our base we have had time to re-assess things.
"So we are going to re-introduce the test chassis and Michael will use that one in Barcelona. We want to eliminate any doubt because obviously Michael has come back, he’s trying to find his references and is trying to work out how to approach things."
One of the biggest changes faced by Schumacher in his comeback season after a three-years absence has been the banning of mid-race refuelling – a change that has altered the structure of the races.
They are no longer a series of sprints on low fuel loads built around the pit-stops, but much more reliant on longer stints of careful tyre management and strategic driving controlled by the man in the cockpit, rather than a pit-wall tactician.
As a result, while he has been learning to create an understanding of the requirements, and become accustomed to the new tyre compounds being used, Schumacher has struggled to show the form that brought him a record 91 race victories before he retired in 2006.
Brawn admitted: "Up to now, I don’t think he has had a car that is to his liking so we hope this will give him something more responsive.
"He is not the sort of guy who panics if things are not going well. He will analyse it all and work it out.
"We have to make sure that in Barcelona for the next race we get it right and perform better."