Lewis Hamilton believes Michael Schumacher will find it difficult to live up to the high expectations being raised by his dramatic return to Formula 1, given that he has missed more than half of the 2009 season.
Bernie Ecclestone has tipped the 40-year-old German to give his younger rivals “a driving lesson” when he steps into the Ferrari cockpit as a substitute for the injured Felipe Massa at Valencia, and Ross Brawn has said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Schumacher win one of the season’s remaining races.
Hamilton, however, doubts that the seven-time world champion will resume his former position of dominance so easily.
“Coming in at this part of the season, Michael is at a disadvantage because he hasn’t had the same experiences as everyone else,” he told the Mail on Sunday.
“It would be unfair to say that I’ll be excited if I finish ahead of him in Valencia because it is his first race of the season.”
Hamilton has never raced against Schumacher, having joined the F1 grid in 2007, the year after the German retired.
The reigning champion has already spoken of his excitement at having the opportunity to do so, describing it as “an honour and a privilege”.
But he is sensitive to the circumstances of Schumacher’s comeback and says he is eager to see his 2008 title rival Massa – who suffered a fractured skull and brain concussion in a freak accident in Hungary on July 25 – return to the fray.
“My thoughts are still with Felipe and his family following his terrible accident,” he said.
“I’ve read on the internet how much progress he has made and things are getting more encouraging by the day.
“I know first-hand how much fighting spirit Felipe has because we had a fantastic battle for the championship last year. He was a total gentleman throughout.
“I want Felipe to know we’re all waiting for him; Michael might be keeping his seat warm, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”
McLaren’s uncompetitiveness in the first half of the season has left Hamilton powerless to defend the title he pipped Massa to last year.
But after a new aerodynamic package transformed the MP4-24’s performance and enabled him to score an emphatic first win of the season in Hungary, the 24-year-old is now brimming with confidence.
“Winning in Budapest has really given me extra strength,” he said.
“I know I now have a car beneath me that can push us to the front and I want to be ready to deliver.”
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Michael Schumacher is to borrow an F2007 from Ferrari's historic Clienti department once again so he can conduct a two-day test at Mugello from tomorrow ahead of his F1 comeback.
With Ferrari's request for a testing exemption to allow Schumacher to drive an F60 having been rejected by Williams, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, Schumacher has taken matters into his own hands and decided to get some more F1 experience himself.
Having already conducted one day in the F2007, loaned by the F1 Clienti historic cars division, last month, Schumacher has requested the loan of the car once again so he can conduct two more days of running, on the GP2-spec tyres that the historic cars normally run on. His test will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
AUTOSPORT understands that Schumacher is paying for the test himself, which will be overseen by members of the Clienti department and not involve Ferrari F1 team members.
Since confirming he will be making an F1 return, Schumacher has been pushing himself hard to get back to race fitness. He spent time testing karts at Lonato and has been working on his strength and endurance.
Schumacher's progress is being overseen by doctors, who are keeping a close eye on his condition and have been conducting a series of medical tests to ensure he is ready for an F1 return in Valencia.
Consequences of bike-injuries make return impossible
"Yesterday evening, I had to inform Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo and Team Principal Stefano Domenicali that unfortunately I'm not able to step in for Felipe. I really tried everything to make that temporary comeback possible, however, much to my regret it didn't work out. Unfortunately we did not manage to get a grip on the pain in the neck which occurred after the private F1-day in Mugello, even if medically or therapeutically we tried everything possible.
The consequences of the injuries caused by the bike-accident in February, fractures in the area of head and neck, unfortunately have turned out to be still too severe. That is why my neck cannot stand the extreme stresses caused by Formula 1 yet. This are the clear results of the examinations we did on the course of the past two weeks and the final examination yesterday afternoon. As there were no improvements after the day in Mugello, I decided at short notice on Sunday to do that thorough examination already yesterday.
I am disappointed to the core. I am awfully sorry for the guys of Ferrari and for all the fans which crossed fingers for me. I can only repeat that I tried everything that was within my power. All I can do now is to keep my fingers crossed for the whole team for the coming races."