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F1 supremo Ecclestone defends struggling Schumacher

Bernie Ecclestone, right, has expressed his support for Michael Schumacher, statistically F1's greatest driver.
Bernie Ecclestone, right, has expressed his support for Michael Schumacher, statistically F1's greatest driver.
  • Bernie Ecclestone says recent criticism of F1 legend Michael Schumacher is "unfair"
  • The German driver is yet to win a race since his return to the sport with Mercedes this season
  • Championship leader Lewis Hamilton suggested Schumacher is too old to compete at top
  • Seven-time world champion, 41, says he has a long-term project at Mercedes

(CNN) -- Formula One legend Michael Schumacher has struggled on his return to the track this year, but the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone insists that recent criticism of the German is "unfair."

Seven-time world champion Schumacher ending his three-year retirement last December when he signed with Mercedes until 2012.

But the 41-year-old has not been able to meet expectations that he would be contending for the drivers' championship, having yet to record a podium finish after nine races.

Schumacher is ninth in the overall standings, trailing leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren by 93 points ahead of the next race in Britain on July 11.

Latest F1 championship standings

I'm not here with a short-term view. From my point of view, we have a three-year program. I can handle the pain
--Michael Schumacher

"I think he (Schumacher) is doing an excellent job," Ecclestone told German website Motorsport Magazin."I do think the criticism of him is unfair.

"He has spent the last three years on holiday. What do you expect after such a break?

"Everyone hopes that he wins a race again -- I hope so."

Former Ferrari driver Schumacher announced his retirement from Formula One in 2007 to become the Italian team's advisor.

Schumacher's career in pictures

He was then scheduled to return to the Ferrari cockpit in 2009 to replace Brazilian Felipe Massa, who was seriously injured after being struck by a suspension spring during qualifying.

But Schumacher suffered a neck injury due to a motorcycle accident earlier in the year and was unable to compete.

However, it was not long before he was racing again, after announcing his decision to team up again with Ross Brawn, whose world champion team was taken over by Mercedes last year.

Hamilton, who won the world title in 2008, said ahead of last weekend's European Grand Prix that he was not surprised by Schumacher's early struggle.

F1 teams seek safety-car rule change

The 25-year-old also told reporters it would be tough for the German to out-perform the younger drivers on the circuit.

"I didn't expect anything from him at the beginning," Hamilton said. "There was an occasion when I saw him before the season started and I kind of thought his commitment was the same as mine at the time.

"His commitment is the same as always, but it is so challenging. It is very difficult to out-do the youngsters that have the hunger that he had when he started."

Schumacher, who won 72 races with Ferrari, continued his poor run of results in Valencia last weekend, finishing 15th -- the worst result of his career.

He has been outshone by 25-year-old teammate Nico Rosberg, with his compatriot 41 points better off in the standings after recording two podium finishes.

Brawn: Mercedes car changes will revive Schumacher's F1 fortunes

Recent reports in Italy claimed Mercedes was planning to replace Schumacher next season with Renault's Robert Kubica, which the team has since denied.

Schumacher, who finished fourth in Barcelona and Istanbul, still believes he will start winning races this campaign.

"I'm not here with a short-term view," he told Mercedes' official website. "From my point of view, we have a three-year program. I can handle the pain.

"I've been around long enough and I've had to deal with much worse pain. Once the progress comes, which I'm sure it will, then you get rewarded.

"Once we can solve our problems, then there is reason to believe we can do much better, and even win races this year."