Schumacher begins ‘last’ F1 season with questions

Michael Schumacher enters the last season of his three-year

Formula One comeback with plenty of questions surrounding the

seven-time world champion.

Schumacher’s decision to end his retirement in December 2009 was

initially greeted with euphoria. But the 43-year-old German has

fallen short of expectations, and now another F1 season awaits

starting with the Australian Grand Prix on March 18.

Schumacher has won the most world championships as well as most

wins (91) and pole positions (68). However, in the two seasons

since joining Mercedes, when he looked to follow Niki Lauda and

Alain Prost as drivers who came out of retirement to win F1 titles,

his best performance was fourth at the Canadian GP.

Another German, Sebastian Vettel, enters the season as clear

favorite. He is trying to win a third straight title on a

competitive grid that also includes former champions Fernando

Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen.

”Victory to me is unlikely, I see Red Bull in front,”

Schumacher said. ”Behind them it will be tight, and you can be

either hero or zero very quickly. It will come down a lot to the

ability of how well you will be setting up your car to the

respective track.”

Schumacher joined Mercedes after the German manufacturer bought

out Brawn, F1’s then-reigning constructors’ champion. He was

reunited with Ross Brawn, his technical director at Ferrari, where

he won five of his titles, and was joined by promising German

driver Nico Rosberg.

”Both drivers are capable of winning. There’s no doubt in my

mind about that,” Brawn said. ”We have got to produce the car. I

don’t think we have the car yet but it has been a good step over

where we were 12 months ago.”

But the script hasn’t gone to plan as Schumacher regularly

finished in the top-10 but never challenged front-runners Red Bull,

McLaren or Ferrari over the past two seasons.

Still, Schumacher was upbeat about his W03 car’s reliability

this season.

”There is potential,” Schumacher said. ”I do not have a clear

picture yet. What we can say though is that the gap between several

teams will not be as big as it was last year.”

Whether Mercedes has done enough to propel Schumacher into a

fairy-tale ending to his career is uncertain – though unlikely.

Whether the season-ending Brazilian GP will be his last race is

another unknown.

”That’s just totally unimportant at the moment. I don’t even

think about it now,” Schumacher said. ”Now, it is all about

focussing and concentrating on understanding our car so that we

will have a positive season. I will certainly not be nailed down