Michael Schumacher made his triumphant return to Formula 1 in 2010 for Mercedes, in what was the manufacturer’s return to the sport as a works team. But why wasn’t he more successful?
Michael Schumacher’s historic career is now a part of Formula 1 legend. The German started his F1 career in 1991 with Jordan, but quickly moved to Benetton where he immediately tasted success.
He won his first two championships with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, before he moved to a struggling Ferrari. With the help of Schumacher and his Benetton collaborators Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, Ferrari became a championship contender and won the constructors’ title in 1999.
In 2000 Schumacher finally won the drivers’ championship for Ferrari, a title that eluded the Italian team since Jody Scheckter won it in 1979. After that Schumacher repeated the feat four more times from 2001 until 2004 and proceeded to smash every Formula 1 record imaginable.
After two less competitive seasons, the legendary German decided to hang up his racing gloves in 2006. However, when Mercedes started planning its return to Formula 1 in 2010, Michael Schumacher, at 41 years old, decided to make his return to the grid.
Unfortunately we all know that his return wasn’t as successful as he and Mercedes would have hoped for. From 2010 until 2012 Schumacher finished behind his team-mate Nico Rosberg in every season, but managed to secure one podium finish at the 2012 European Grand Prix.
So why wasn’t Schumacher more successful at Mercedes? Legendary F1 designer John Barnard (who worked with Schumacher at Benetton and Ferrari) tried to answer that question on the Beyond the Grid podcast. When Barnard was asked who the best driver he ever worked with was, the Briton picked four-time champion Alain Prost and proceeded to explain why he didn’t put Michael Schumacher in the same category.
“Michael was quick but… I didn’t like the way he had the car set up,” said Barnard.
“For me it wasn’t the way to go. And I would love to have been the fly on the wall when he drove for Mercedes in 2010 alongside Rosberg.
“I tried to speak to Michael and put across my viewpoint. For me, the way the car is quick is if you can plant the back end, if I can give you maximum traction at the back at all times, you can open the throttle sooner and you will be quicker.’
“Now, Michael didn’t drive like that. Michael drove what I call ‘off the front of the car’. He wanted a front end [where he could] absolutely just turn the wheel and bang, into the corner and he would kind of look after the back.
“All the other guys said: ‘we don’t like that, because when we do that the back end comes out’.”
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Barnard proceeded to give his opinion on why Schumacher wasn’t able to best his team-mate Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.
“He, quite often, was nowhere near as quick as Rosberg then and I thought: ‘This is strange, there’s something going on here.’
“My theory, and this is only my theory, is that Rosberg was like most of the guys who wants a car that’s nicely planted at the back and will then find a way to get as best he can around the understeer.
“Michael didn’t like that, and when they did set the car up for Michael he was quicker than Rosberg, but he wasn’t overall quick. I just think Michael’s approach to it [was the issue].”
“It was good when he was young because his reactions were phenomenal but as he got a bit older, I’m not sure that that system worked so well,” concluded Barnard.
Schumacher’s long-time manager Willi Webber, who tried to discourage him from returning to Formula 1, also gave his opinion on why the German struggled at Mercedes.
“It was a different technology and driver generation,” Webber told Kolner Express.
“Michael couldn’t compensate for it, even though he was as fit as ever. Michael failed at Mercedes. If only he had listened to me this time.
“He tried everything and made the car faster together with Rosberg so that Mercedes could become a world champion so often.
“But it was still as unnecessary as a goiter,“ concluded the German.
In the end however, it is generally accepted that Michael Schumacher played an important part in making Mercedes the Formula 1 powerhouse it is today. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff agrees.
“Michael is one of the founding fathers of the success we have had in the last five years,” the Austrian said, commenting on Michael’s 50th birthday.
“There is no other driver like him and his vast experience contributed tremendously in the development of our team.
“He played a crucial role when we re-joined F1 and was one of the people who laid the foundation for our future success.
“We’re extremely grateful for everything he did for us. Today, we all tip our hats to you – happy birthday, Michael!
“He has had a tremendous impact on Formula One. Not only did he set an incredible record – a record that is yet to be beaten – but he also shaped and changed the sport forever.
“As a driver, Michael took Formula One to a whole new level with his attention to detail and his technical knowledge.
“He did everything with great determination, from his engineering debriefs to his physical training, and was always searching for new ways to improve his on-track performance,” concluded Wolff.