By Dhananjay Khadilkar
One of the main attractions of the 2012 Formula One season was supposed to have been the rivalry between Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen, arguably two of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. The two hadn’t raced against each other for five years since Schumacher had retired at the end of 2006. Though he returned in 2010, Raikkonen chose to leave the sport the same year.
The much anticipated rivalry though hasn’t materialised in the first five races and, in all probability, it is highly unlikely that there would be an encore of the spectacle that was a regular feature till the middle of the last decade. While Raikkonen has shifted into top gear in just five races, Schumacher’s woes show no sign of abating.
The once invincible champion has been punished with a five-place grid penalty at next week’s Monaco GP for colliding into the back of Bruno Senna’s car at Barcelona. The grid penalty has more or less compromised his race considering how difficult it is to overtake in Monaco. Judging by the performance of Lotus, Williams and Sauber so far, even wider circuits might not have been of any help to the seven-time champion.
The worrying part for Schumacher is that he has committed such errors quite regularly since he returned to the sport in 2010. And this season he has found fault with the current tyre specs saying they are having too large an effect on the outcome of the races. So far, not many have complained against this year’s rubber. On the contrary, the high degradation of tyres have has played a major part in making racing more spectacular — five winners from five different teams in the five races so far is a telling statistic.
No one expected Schumacher to start winning in the first year of his comeback. However, he wasn’t expected to perform as badly either. Since 2010, he has been outperformed by his teammate Nico Rosberg, who not only claimed three podium finishes in the same year but also emerged victorious at the Chinese GP.
The result in Shanghai was significant for the team as this was the first win for Mercedes in more than five decades. It is significant that this distinction went to Rosberg and not Schumacher. Of course, given the results so far, it was not surprising that Schumacher was upstaged by his younger teammate.
Consider this… in 2010, Schumacher didn’t have a pole position, podium finish, race win or fastest lap in the entire season, the first time since his début season in 1991. 2011 was no better as the drought of wins, podiums, pole positions and fastest laps continued though his performance improved from the previous season, as he managed to reduce the points gap to Rosberg.
2012 has been a forgettable season for Schumacher so far. The seven-times-champion has managed a paltry two points in five races. He is languishing in 18th place — only ahead of the drivers of the three teams who haven’t scored a single point since 2010.
Now, compare Schumacher’s no-show with the impressive return of Raikkonen. Though the Finnish driver hasn’t won a race so far, he has managed two consécutive podium finishes (2nd and 3rd) in the last two races and has looked capable of winning. He hasn’t complained about the tyres despite his race getting compromised in China where he finished 14th because of tyre wear. In the other four races, he has driven smoothly and looked confident. After five races, he has accumulated 49 points, just 12 behind the championship leader. In his first comeback year, he put himself in contention for the championship.
Given by Schumacher’s performance so far, it is clear that he either no longer possesses the edge he had during his décade long (1994-2004) golden run or that he hasn’t been able to adjust to the changes that have swept Formula One since 2009, with the new tyre specifications being the latest.
The contrasting comebacks of the two champions so far means that the prospect of seeing a high-stake overtaking maneuvre between Schumacher and Raikkonen seems remote. However, with the 2012 season unfolding in such an unexpected manner, no one seems to be complaining.