Michael Schumacher has revealed for the first time since returning to Formula One that he is no longer enjoying racing.
“The big joy has gone right now,” said Schumacher in the wake of a wretched Turkish Grand Prix in which he finished a miserable 12th, leaving him with just six points to his name after four races.
It is an indicator that the seven-times world champion could now start to question whether he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level of motor sport.
The statistics make significant reading because in 23 races since he was tempted out of retirement, Schumacher has undeniably been second best to team-mate Nico Rosberg.
This year Schumacher has been out-qualified by Rosberg in all four grands prix, and beaten by his younger German compatriot in the last two, and 15 overall.
Around Istanbul Park, Schumacher was often bullied out of the way, initially on lap two when Renault’s Vitaly Petrov dived down the inside at turn 12, only to run over the 42-year-old’s front wing.
An early pit stop compromised Schumacher’s race in which another German, Adrian Sutil, later barged his way through at turn 12 again.
The aura has gone, leaving former Formula One rival and BBC co-commentator David Coulthard to suggest Schumacher may start to be questioning his future.
“He’s not performing at the same level of his team-mate, that’s a fact,” said Coulthard.
“The statistics show Nico is getting more out of that car than Michael.
“I don’t think we should write Michael off by any stretch of the imagination, there’s a lot of talent there, but he must be asking himself questions.
“I think the key thing is he’s not enjoying it, and to be perfectly open and honest with you there was an element of that for me at the beginning of 2008.
“I wasn’t as competitive as I felt I should be, I wasn’t enjoying the races as much as I used to, and then that’s the moment.
“It slowly builds until you look in the mirror and realise that feeling you’ve been having for a few weeks or months is the internal message. You can’t hold back the clock.”
It is another young German, Sebastian Vettel, who continues to grab the headlines, the 23-year-old winning his third race this season to open up a 34-point gap at the top of the standings.
When you take the end of last season into account, Vettel has now won six of the last eight races overall, and there is the danger this year’s title race could become a procession.
Vettel, though, maintains he is not unbeatable as he said: “The day you start to think that is the day you are beaten.
“We are racing at the highest level where we all try to win, try to be better than the other guys.
“But there is always someone at some point who will teach you a lesson and will give you a very hard time and beat you.”
The win was the 13th of Vettel’s career, and with team-mate Mark Webber runner-up, the one-two was the 11th for Red Bull as they exorcised the demons of last season’s crash between the duo.
Fernando Alonso gave Ferrari their first podium of the year, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fourth and sixth in their McLarens that sandwiched the Mercedes of Rosberg.