When I think of the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai, I always find myself reflecting on the inaugural race there back in 2004. It was one of those rare days when Michael Schumacher and his Ferrari looked simply average, the seven times world champion qualifying a hopeless 20th and finishing a lapped 12th.
Instead the race was dominated by his Maranello team-mate Rubens Barrichello who quite simply seemed to have a much better handle on the new venue that his celebrated colleague.
This year, of course, Schumacher’s level of expectancy will be fluttering somewhere between those two unlikely extremes. He’s unlikely to be dominating proceedings from the front, but he’s certainly not going to be down amongst the tail-enders, even though Jaimie Alguasuari rather cheekily offered his thanks for the driving lesson the Mercedes driver inadvertently produced for him in Melbourne after Schumi dropped to the back of the field after needing his car’s nose section changed after that first corner tangle.
Mercedes Motorsport vice president Norbert Haug must be getting used to fielding seemingly endless speculation as to Michael’s frame of mind, whether he will quit tomorrow, next week, the end of the year or in ten years time. I’m glad it’s the German media who are really stoking this frenzy, but Haug resolutely insists that Schumacher remains highly motivated and “focussed on long term success.”
He told the German publication Bild, "As soon as the car can (win) so can Michael. The fact that he has not had better results to far is not his fault."
Of course, the breakneck schedule of the next few weeks will not help with China (18 April) followed by the return to Europe for Spain (9 May) and Monaco (16 May) and suddenly we’re almost halfway through the 19 race schedule. Time is not yet running out for Schumacher, but it is certainly not on his side.