Lauda's theory on Schumacher
[IMG]http://cdn.images.autosport.com/space.gif[/IMG][B] Michael Schumacher's comeback has not been a success, but the weird thing is he seems to be enjoying it. Are there still questions that he is confident he can answer in a race-winning way?
The puzzling thing about the enigma that is Michael Schumacher's comeback is that, at the half-way point of the season, there is no pattern.
We know that Mercedes is a little lost on the anomalies of the car, and that its specific weakness of front-end grip on a light fuel load is preventing Michael driving the way he naturally prefers to. But even index-linking his performances to team-mate Nico Rosberg, there is no trend. At a couple of races he was marginally faster, at most he's been a little slower. But you'll look in vain for a trend.
What's even more puzzling is that Michael does not seem to be going through hell about it, and gives every appearance of a guy who is simply enjoying being back among it all.
Niki Lauda has a view on it that's quite interesting, given that he made a successful comeback after two years away, but then encountered a team-mate whose speed caused him to recalibrate, question and ultimately retire again, this time for good.
"For me there were two issues," Lauda says. "But I think only one of them can apply to Michael. The issues only became issues because in 1984-85 Alain Prost had proved to me that someone could get in the same car and make it go faster than I could, that there was potential in the car I couldn't reach.
"I hated the turbo engines, where you have variable power at different times, and he was able to handle this much better than me. If I had still had John Watson as a team-mate [as in 1982-83, the first years of his comeback] I don't think it would have been an issue.
"The first thing is that you realise, without you having noticed, is that a brake has come on in the back of your head while you've been away. You leave a metre to the barrier on the exit instead of skimming it. Once I realised this, I had to tell my brain to stop working against me and work with me. Back then there was a very logical reason for that caution because if you drove over the top, pushing like crazy all the time, nine times out of 10 you would be killed. Today, that doesn't apply. You can push as hard as you want and not hit anything and so I cannot see this applying to Michael.
"But the other thing was that I realised I was having to tell myself how to go quicker, as I was doing it. I had to do it through my head, not just on instinct. This guy was proving it was possible to go faster, therefore how to do it? But the problem was Prost wasn't having to think about it, just like the Hamiltons and Vettels today are not having to think about it.
"A young kid has got no brake on him, he just loves going faster, and I'm guessing that Michael is having to analytically look at how to go quicker. Some days everything will come together and your experience and how the tyres are all come to you, and you can beat the young guy - like with me and Prost at Zandvoort in '85. But that depends on the younger, quicker guy getting something wrong. Once you understand that, understand the speed is not there any more, then you are cured."
Is that it? Was Michael not cured because he was still demonstrably super-fast when he stopped at the end of 2006? Will this season cure him, enable him to retire peacefully? Or is there, still lurking within all the neurons, a place where - if the car can be made to drive the way he likes it - all the magic will return, without thought, without analysis?
It's likely he will hang around until at least next year, in the hope that the team can build him a car with strong front-end grip in all conditions, in the hope that the Pirelli control tyre is better than the Bridgestone in this respect. Because until he feels that, he surely cannot know, not for certain. If the moment comes that he gets into a front-endy car, giving him all the messages he needs, and he sees he's still slower than his team-mate, then surely he will be cured.