Schumacher back in the spotlight

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LONDON May 13 – Michael Schumacher's future, rather than his past, continued to be the focus of much attention this week as he reflected on his feelings following a despondent outing in last Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix.
The 42-year-old German, a seven-times drivers’ champion and winner of a record 91 Grands Prix, told reporters after climbing from his Mercedes car at the Istanbul Park circuit that he no longer felt any great joy in racing.

But by Friday morning, following several days of careful consideration of his own performance and the potential of the team run by his long-time friend, pit-wall boffin and technical guru Ross Brawn, he had revised his comments.

In a statement issued to preview the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix next weekend, Schumacher was quoted as saying he was still ‘motivated’ to succeed and effectively ending speculation over his immediate future.

Doubts had been raised following four unspectacular outings this season in which so far his best has been eighth, in China, and he has been comprehensively outperformed in all departments by his more youthful team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg, 25, son of the 1982 world champion Finn Keke Rosberg.

"While I was not happy with my weekend in Turkey, there have been clear signs of improvements for us as a team, which obviously push and re-boost my motivation even more," said Schumacher.

"It’s more than encouraging to see that the hard work of the team is starting to pay off. We are all determined to make progress."

After 271 race starts in a 20-year career that began at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1991, Schumacher has been showing clear signs of wear and tear as he has struggled to turn his ‘comeback’ after three years in retirement into a return to glory.

He has trained furiously to recover his sleek fitness, but no amount of work in a gym can rejuvenate human reflexes or reverse the ageing process that appears to have reduced the old ‘red baron’ to his current level of competitiveness.

Without a victory in the 17 months since his return, Schumacher has, quite simply, become ‘just another driver’ on the circuit to his rivals even if, on his best days and with a car that he enjoys, he can put up a vigorous defence of his great reputation.

But, now working in the shadow of the new champion, Sebastian Vettel, who was heralded as the ‘new Schumi’ when he first came into Formula One, the old champion knows his days at the top are numbered.

The question, as recent events have exposed, is how many does he have left?

With Rosberg closing in on his first win and establishing himself as Mercedes team’s likeliest victor on current form, Schumacher is having to reconcile himself to a role that he did not really expect.

Rosberg himself is ready to push harder in pursuit of his breakthrough triumph and this week welcomed another update package for his car ahead of next weekend’s contest at the Circuit de Catalunya.

"Our upward trend is clear for all to see, even though we still have a little more progress to make in race configuration compared to qualifying," he said.

"I’m looking forward to Barcelona, where we will also be introducing an update package for the ca and I’m excited to see how it works.

"We showed a good level of performance at the final winter test on this circuit and hopefully we can translate that into a strong result this weekend."

It was at that final winter test before the season began that Mercedes raised hopes of title-challenging year ahead.

Now, it may be seen as a chance for Rosberg to shine again and for Schumacher to roll back the years and, once again, prove he has the guile and performance to put a smile back on his face.

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