It's pretty safe to say that Michael Schumacher isn't quite back up to vintage form. After winning seven World Championships, Schumi spent three years on the sidelines before leaving retirement to take the wheel at the newly-rechristened Mercedes-Benz GP team, headed by his longtime collaborator and strategic mastermind, Ross Brawn. But in the three grands prix so far this season, the world's most accomplished driver has been consistently outperformed by his younger teammate Nico Rosberg. In fact, Schumi's one of only two drivers – along with Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov – to be out-qualified by his wingman in all three races, reinforcing the adage that an F1 driver's teammate is his chief rival.

His lackluster performance has left pundits wondering whether Michael's return was ill-conceived. There's even speculation that even though his contract with Mercedes extends through 2012, Schumacher could bow out by the end of this season.

The top brass at Mercedes, however, have been quick to defend their star driver, blaming themselves before blaming Schumi. Motorsport chief Norbert Haug says Michael is "highly motivated [towards] the long term", with team CEO Nick Fry warning not to "underestimate" Schumacher's potential for a comeback. With sixteen races left to go this season, there's plenty of time to see who'll turn out right.

[Sources: Top Gear, ESPN F1]

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