Much has been said about the return of Michael Schumacher to Formula 1. The hype meter never dropped since the day the seven-time champion signed for Mercedes GP Petronas, and fans looked forward to having four world champions battling out on the same grid. Three races into the 2010 season and people are starting to realise that Schumi, now 41, is human after all, and no one can come back from a three-year hiatus and fit in back at the top.

While the three other champs (Button, Hamilton, Alonso) and Sebastian Vettel have had some brilliant drives among them so far, Schumi was outpaced by compatriot and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Bahrain, Australia and Malaysia, and Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport points out that the only other driver with a full 3-0 defeat in 2010 is Renault’s rookie Russian Vitaly Petrov. Back home in Deutschland, daily Bild ran a headline reading Der Schumi-Absturz (the fall of Schumi), adding that 24-year-old Rosberg is now Mercedes’ “new number 1”.

This has led the Brackley based team’s chief executive Nick Fry to defend the veteran, saying that Schumacher is working back up to full strength. “Every race he is learning a little bit more and it is all coming together slowly but surely, which is probably what you would expect,” he told the Press Association. “I would not underestimate him,” added Fry.

At Sepang, Schumacher retired after just 10 laps when his car lost a wheel nut. Rosberg finished third for Mercedes GP’s first podium. He has collected 35 points so far, four behind championship leader Felipe Massa. Schumacher has nine points.