I do not think that Michael Schumacher will want to retire from Formula One at the end of this season. Like the rest of the paddock I have heard murmurings that the Mercedes board have not been happy with how the grand prix team have done in this year back in the series under the German company's name.
But I do not think that Schumacher will want to step down and retire for a second time after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The Schumacher I knew would always go somewhere for a reason. That is the case with his move to Mercedes at the end of last year. He came back as he wanted to win more championships, and to do it at Mercedes, who had not won anything in Formula One for a long time. But for various reason this first season has been a disappointment and now questions are reportedly being asked by Mercedes bosses about what has gone wrong and why the seven-times world champion has spent most of the season in the midfield.
They have been out-performed by one of the teams that they supply engines to - McLaren - while on occasions they have been out-performed by Force India, who also use their engines. It has been a frustrating year for Schumacher, but I am sure that he would not want to end his career on a low note and will be keen to show that he is still the driver who won seven world championships, and is capable of winning more races and titles.
The problem for him now is whether Mercedes believe that he is still capable of that kind of performance after a year in which he has been consistently out-qualified and out-performed by his teammate Nico Rosberg. Schumacher and Ross Brawn, the team principal, will be anxious to continue and develop their partnership that saw them win championships at both Benetton and Ferrari in the past. But that success did not come overnight then, and it will not come overnight now, and Mercedes have a lot of work to do if they are going to be contenders in 2011, whether Schumacher is still with them or not.
It is now about whether Mercedes believe that Schumacher can still deliver on the track. It has been said by the team that he has not been helped by the compound used by Bridgestone in this year's tyres. His driving style has suffered, they say, as he has struggled for front-end grip and to get sufficient heat in them for qualifying. But that does not cut it with me, personally. It is the job of the driver to adapt their driving style to the set of tyres they will be using for a season, and if Michael has not been able to do that to such a level that he has not been competitive, then sadly it shows that maybe he was not good as people think.
As said, a driver has to adapt when he gets in a car, be it the chassis or the tyres. The only time I had any real difficulties was in Japan when I was racing in F3000 back in the early nineties. The series was largely made up of Japanese drivers and the tyres were very soft and would move about a little under braking, something which suited those racers. I found that I would destroy them very quickly as my driving style was not suited to that soft a compound. I had always thought that I had a smooth style, but I had to evolve my driving even further to try and preserve the tyres.
This year's tyres from Bridgestone were not designed specifically for Schumacher. They were designed for the whole grid and it is up to each team and driver do acclimatise to them as quickly as possible and do the best job they can. I think the sport has moved on a lot in the three years that Schumacher was out of the sport following his first retirement in 2006. Teams are now much faster at responding to changes, especially with the simulators, once testing is over, and also are better at adapting to their drivers' needs.
Ferrari and Schumacher were probably the first team to work so closely together and pay so much attention to detail but, as with everything else in F1, teams catch on and learn from their rivals and why they are successful and how to best do themselves justice. Schumacher has been conditioned in the past to being able to demand that the team focus all their energies and attention around him. But his poor performances, compared to Rosberg, who I think has done a very good job this year, mean he has lost his authority to do that. Ultimately, his destiny is now to a certain degree out of his hands.
I cannot imagine Schumacher will want to stop after such a poor season, but it is now up to the Mercedes bosses to decide if he gets a second opportunity next year to demonstrate that he still has that magic in his driving. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org