• 41-year-old Schumacher hits back at critics
• ‘I know what I’m doing,’ says seven-times champion
The seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher is just too old to make an impact in modern Formula One, according to the new championship leader, Lewis Hamilton.
Schumacher, 41, who left the sport for three years after winning his record number of titles and 91 races, has struggled with Mercedes this season, failing to get on to the podium in eight rounds and twice in the last three races he has finished outside the top 10.
The 25-year-old Hamilton said today: “I didn’t expect anything from him at the beginning. There was an occasion when I saw him before the season started and I kind of thought his commitment was the same as mine at the time.
“After that he was pushing like crazy and he still is today. His commitment is the same as always but it is so challenging. It is very difficult to out-do the youngsters that have the hunger that he had when he started.”
Schumacher’s very average performances prompted a report in Italy today that Mercedes were considering dumping the legend in favour of Renault’s Robert Kubica next season, although a spokesman for the German team said this evening: “We can confirm that there is absolutely no truth in this report.”
Schumacher apologised to Hamilton after balking him ahead of his final practice lap. Hamilton was poised for the last of the 25 corners of the circuit, only for Schumacher ahead of him to slow and throw the McLaren car out of its stride.
“I must apologise as I did not see him and was not informed he was there,” said Schumacher. “As I was planning my lap at that moment and looking ahead, I was unfortunately in his way.”
Hamilton accepted the explanation with good grace. “It’s very difficult out there to always find a gap,” he said. “I saw him ahead of me but thought he was on a lap and all of a sudden he slowed down to create a gap to the guy in front. Fortunately I missed him, so no hard feelings, and I hear he apologised anyway, so it’s all good. There’s no problem.”
Schumacher sounded rather testy when reminded about his growing number of critics, among them Sir Jackie Stewart who has said the German is damaging his legacy by making an unsuccessful comeback. Schumacher, who was off the pace with his arrival here, blaming French air traffic control, said: “I don’t take them [the critics] seriously.
“There are different elements to Formula One and one part is showbusiness. To moan about me sometimes creates some attention, which maybe is to be purposely achieved. I’d rather not have it, or have to hear about it or have to answer your question, but that’s what it comes down to for me.”
He added: “Yes, you make mistakes and you could have improved certain things, with hindsight. But all in all I don’t think there are many guys around the world who, at 41, come back after a three-year break and compete at this high a level.
“I’ve not lost my knowledge of driving. I know what I’m doing and I think I do it to the best I can. When I won 91 grands prix and seven championships, I was thinking then about how I can improve, as I’m doing now.” Schumacher finished eighth and 11th in today’s two practice sessions, trailing his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, by seven places on each occasion.
Fernando Alonso set the pace in the afternoon session with a repeat of the surging speed he showed in Canada two weeks ago. Ferrari, like Mercedes and Renault, have come here with a revamped exhaust system and Alonso is expected to challenge for pole position in qualifying before his Spanish supporters tomorrow.
The practice sessions are often misleading because teams experiment but McLaren’s Hamilton and Jenson Button were second and third in the morning and fifth and ninth in the afternoon.