F1 veterans Martin Brundle, John Surtees and Jody Scheckter say Michael Schumacher did the right thing in making a Formula 1 comeback, even though it did not deliver the kind of results that he had hoped for last year. They believe that the success of Schumacher's return should not be judged by his results but instead by what he got out of competing again.
The seven-time champion returned to grand prix racing after an absence of three years to race for Mercedes GP, but spent the season battling to get back to top form as team-mate Nico Rosberg delivered the team's only podium finishes.
Speaking at the AUTOSPORT International motorsports show on Saturday about Schumacher's return, Brundle said: "I have no problem with him coming back. He was bouncing down the track after falling off his Superbike for the 12th time. What is the point of killing himself on a Superbike? You might as well go back [to F1]. They were prepared to give him a drive. He loved doing it and I think we should give him a little bit more time.
"I respect him for coming back. He had the opportunity and that is what he wanted to do at the end of the day. It cannot be right or wrong – and people are too judgmental on that.
"The mistake I think Michael made was before the start of the season when he said, 'I only do winning World Championships, that is why I am here.' He set the bar too high for himself. He ought to have said, 'These are young chargers, I will do my best, we'll see how far I get and I will support Nico [Rosberg] and the team [to] try and go win some races.' I think then he could have come at it from a different direction."
Scheckter, the 1979 champion, reckoned that Schumacher could even be enjoying driving in F1 more now than when he was winning races.
"From his point of view it is a good decision. Before that he was on the pit wall trying to look busy and you know –if you don't find something to do after racing F1, never mind where he was in F1, it is very tough," he said. "So I would imagine he is probably enjoying it more now when he did when he first started because it is probably a bigger challenge for him."
Fellow ex-World Champion Surtees pointed out that the relationships Schumacher had built up with Benetton and Ferrari had been critical to his success in his initial career, and that he had not yet had chance to do this at Mercedes.
"When I go along and talk to youngsters, I say: 'One moment, it is all very well these people who have all the negatives about Michael, but the fact remains that he created that relationship with the team which then related to the way the cars performed on the track and he got the job done," Surtees said. "He did a wonderful job for Ferrari and I am not so sure he won't do the same thing for Mercedes."
The 1964 title winner reckons it was unrealistic for anyone to expect Schumacher to pick up where he had left off, given how much F1 had changed since 2006.
"I think he came back into a different world, a situation where before he had been able to establish close relationships, [go] out testing, come together with the car and tune it to suit himself," Surtees said. "What he had to overcome was all that preconceived reaction from the past. He could not come in and do what he used to do because the cars had changed, the rules had changed, so it was a new learning curve.
"I would not go along and say he shouldn't have come back, as frankly only he can make that decision and I have enough faith in him to believe that he would have had confidence that in the not too longer term he can put it together again."
Brundle, who was Schumacher's team-mate at Benetton in 1992, believes that Schumacher's biggest difficulty was in finding himself in a different situation from when he was clear number one at Ferrari.
"I think he is struggling a bit from not having all the deck of cards in his favor," Brundle explained. "When he was at Ferrari he had the best people around him, and they had all sorts of support. He developed the Bridgestone tires and he was king of the castle – his teammate was there to support his efforts and would often be sent out to check a set of tires, which Michael didn't want to waste time doing.
"Michael had a lot of advantages – but that is quite clever. I would have done that if I could have, and so would have Jody. Niki Lauda did, Alain Prost did, [and] Ayrton Senna did. All the great champions are ruthless."