Michael Schumacher is protected by past merits in a mediocre Formula One comeback season, but Mercedes GP team boss Ross Brawn is optimistic that the record world champion will be his former self again next year.

The Sport Bild weekly on Wednesday also quoted Brawn as saying that Schumacher is expected to fulfil his contract at the team until 2012.

Schumacher, 41, retired in 2006 as a seven-time world champion. He returned this year at Mercedes GP but is only ranked 10th in the championship with 46 points, 156 points behind leader Mark Webber. He also trails teammate Nico Rosberg by a big margin.

“If Michael was a beginner we would sometimes ask ourselves whether he has the potential to develop. But with Michael we know that it is the case,” said Brawn.

According to Brawn, Rosberg is coping better with the car and the current Bridgestone tyres, but the team boss expects Schumacher to improve in 2011 in a better car and with new Pirelli rubbers.

“We expect different characteristics from the Pirelli tyres, which should suit Michael’s driving style in a better way. We will then know whether Michael is really worse than Nico,” Brawn told Sport Bild.

“I believe we won’t see the true Michael until 2011 when we have built him a better car.” Brawn said Schumacher was dealing well with the poor results and is not expected to quit prematurely because has become “more relaxed” than in the past.

Brawn also dismissed speculation about tensions between himself and the Mercedes leadership over the modest season in which the team trails the big three of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari by a mile.

“Of course no one is happy with our performance this year. But right now there are no problems between myself and Mercedes. They will only come if we don’t improve in the future,” said Brawn.

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