Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can Schumacher turn the corner?

Will Gray

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Michael Schumacher suffered another disappointing end to his race in Canada last weekend — but in a tight title battle what's gone wrong for him and is there any way he can get himself back in the mix?

Last month, seven-times world champion Schumacher claimed pole for the first time since his return to racing but that has been the only real highlight in a disappointing campaign.

While his team-mate Nico Rosberg has taken pole, won a race and clocked up 67 points in the first seven races, Schumacher has retired five times and has just two points to his name.

After struggling to find the pace in the Mercedes in his first two years, he finally started to get to grips with the car this season — but every race has somehow turned into disaster.

In Australia, he put in his best qualifying performance since his return with fourth on the grid but gearbox problems halted his race 10 laps in as he was running third. Verdict: Team error.

In Malaysia, he went one better with third on the grid but was clipped by Grosjean off the start and spun, putting him back into the pack. He ended up 10th. Verdict: Driver error/Bad luck.

In China, Schumacher went better again with a front-row slot alongside Rosberg — but he was second best to the younger German all weekend. In the race, a wheel fell off after a bad pit stop, ending hopes of a potential podium and making him the only retirement of the race. Rosberg went on to take victory. Verdict: Team error.

It was a qualifying disaster in Bahrain as a problem with DRS caused him to be eliminated in Q3 and he could only fight back to 10th for his second point of the year. Verdict: Team error.

A poor qualifying put Schumacher back in the lower top 10 in Spain then he made a massive error of judgement when he crashed into the back of Bruno Senna's Williams on lap 12. Not only did it ruin that race, it made a huge dent in his hopes for the next as a five-place penalty dropped him down the grid for Monaco. Verdict: Driver error.

Securing pole in Monaco was both his mightiest achievement since his return to the sport but also one of the most disappointing. Plunged back into the first corner melee thanks to his penalty, he met with Grosjean again but soldiered on until lap 63, when a fuel pressure failure halted his progress in seventh. Had he been able to start from pole, and not suffered the bad luck, things could have been very different. Verdict: Driver error (legacy from previous race) and team error.

In Canada last weekend, problems in qualifying meant he failed to get the grid spot he deserved and he was again stuck back in the pack for most of the race, eventually retiring with his rear wing stuck open due to a loose hydraulic DRS pipe on lap 43. Verdict: Team error.

In contrast, Rosberg has completed every lap of every race.

Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali claimed last weekend that this year is already a three-horse race between his team leader Fernando Alonso, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel — completely discounting Mercedes from the mix.

But the British-based German team is actually still very much in the mix — with Rosberg picking up points at a consistent pace.

After a disastrous first two races, Mercedes got a handle on the tyres and Rosberg has shown what they are capable of, with a record of 1-5-7-2-6 since then. That's not title-winning material yet — but the promise is there and the odd spark has demonstrated they can race at the front. And in this unpredictable season, Rosberg has kept his nose in the developing title battle on consistency alone.

Which is something that can't be said for Schumacher, whose problems are three-fold.

He has undeniably suffered a lack of luck — and that is something he can only hope to wish away for future races.

He has also suffered from significant team errors — for which boss Ross Brawn has apologised and promised to find a solution. But the problem is that unlike the past, when Schumacher had a notable problem with his chassis and improved when it was changed, the issues this year are not accountable to a single source, which makes them much harder to fix.

Finally, and most crucially, he has suffered racing in the midfield — a place where protecting tyres is of vital importance and clean wheel-to-wheel combat is crucial. The latter is something that Schumacher has consistently been criticised for since his comeback, and it is still something he needs to shake off.

The key to a comeback, then, is qualifying.

If he can get a bit of luck, start up the front and the team can avoid making errors, then he could finally get back on the podium before the end of the year — but as for a title challenge, well, 86 points is a big gap to close.

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