Schumacher as good as he ever was, says Haug
Suzuka: Mercedes ridiculed reports on Friday that seven-times champion Michael Schumacher had been told to raise his game or have his Formula One contract terminated a year early.
Motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug said the sport`s most successful driver may even be driving better than ever despite his 41 years and being out-raced by young team mate Nico Rosberg.
German tabloid newspaper Bild had raised the spectre of an ultimatum in an unsourced report but Haug consigned that to the rubbish bin at a Japanese Grand Prix news conference.
"Of course there was no ultimatum," he said after Schumacher lapped quicker than Rosberg in both practice sessions at Suzuka, a challenging circuit where he has won six times in his career.
"I think Michael again showed today his class, his full commitment.
"We are currently a little bit handicapped with our car but I have no complaints and no regrets that we`re going to achieve our target," added the German.
"We need to work hard. As I said before... we are sticking together and Michael is, for me, as good as he ever was and probably even better. He`s relaxed, concentrated.
"He doesn`t need anybody to defend him, certainly not me but we are very happy with the job he`s doing and we need to give Nico (Rosberg) and him a better car."
Schumacher, winner of a record 91 races with Benetton and Ferrari, has come under heavy fire since he came out of retirement this year without matching up to soaring expectations.
Pundits, including his first team boss Eddie Jordan and former Benetton principal Flavio Briatore, have both warned that Schumacher was destroying his legacy and had made a huge mistake in coming back after three years out.
With the criticism has come increased speculation that Schumacher could even walk away at the end of this season -- perhaps with a nudge from Mercedes -- and be replaced by an up-and-coming driver like Force India`s Adrian Sutil.
Schumacher, who has yet to finish higher than fourth place in 15 races with the team, has been consistent in saying that his focus is on 2011 and the hope of a more competitive car.
"I think sometimes one should reflect what this guy has achieved, how he handles the criticism, how good he is for Formula One and again," continued Haug.
"I`m happy and I think the Formula One community should be very happy to have Michael."