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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Is Schumi dreaming or realistic?

The engines are quiet, but the offseason noise has just begun in Formula One.

Launch dates, rule alterations and driver changes are just a few items occupying F1 teams at the moment, and there is much work to be done prior to Bahrain in March.

Among the younger teams, Lotus seems to have a distinct advantage considering it began preparations for 2011 very early on last year, announcing intentions to focus on the coming year's car as early as May.

With a new engine supplier -- Renault -- Lotus could show strong improvement next season, whichever name they end up running under.

One rookie, Kamui Kobayashi, was very deserving of a race seat for 2011, and he received one by returning to Sauber.

Another rookie, however, was not as fortunate as 2009 GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg was left without a starting ride for next season when he was replaced by Pastor Maldonado at Williams.

It's a fantastic opportunity for reigning GP2 title-winner Maldonado, but he will inevitably be compared to the man he replaced, as both made their entry into F1 via Williams immediately following a GP2 championship.

Maldonado has a considerable amount to live up to, considering Hulkenberg managed to earn points in seven races this season, the second-highest total by an F1 rookie driving for Williams since 1996.

There are several variables over the years, of course.

Hulkenberg had the benefit of several more races and an expanded points system. But he also had a less competitive car than Jacques Villeneuve in 1996, when Williams finished first and second in the drivers standings.

Hulkenberg's season was by no means bulletproof, but his progress as the year unfolded was undeniable.

In his first 11 races, Hulkenberg earned just two points, but in the final eight race weekends the young German collected 20. Equally impressive is the fact that he had just one retirement in his final 10 events of the year.

He capped it all off with pole position in Brazil.

Elsewhere, Michael Schumacher no doubt raised a few eyebrows in early December when he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, "We will make a big leap forward and -- if all goes well -- win races."

A 91-time winner in the series would normally be taken at his word, but after a trying 2010 season, questions certainly abound.

If Schumacher wants to have any chance at winning races next season, he'll have to start beating teammate Nico Rosberg, who consistently outpaced the seven-time world champion last season; Rosberg scored better than Schumacher in numerous metrics.

Keep in mind, twice Schumacher finished better than Rosberg when his young teammate retired after accidents that were out of his control. One came at Japan. Another occurred at Korea when Mark Webber lost control and came back across the track, collecting Rosberg in the process.

Yet another better finish came in Hungary when Rosberg lost his wheel on pit road while running well ahead of his teammate. Pirelli's tire may suit Schumacher better, but in order to realistically target wins in 2011, he'll have to tackle his teammate first.

Making some back-page headlines recently was also the news that American Alexander Rossi had recorded the fourth-fastest time in the GP2 tests at Abu Dhabi.

Rossi finished fourth in GP3 this past season, and could be America's most likely candidate for a future F1 seat.

A driver from the United States is paramount in the upcoming years, as F1 is set to return stateside in 2012.

In years past, the sport has been woefully underrepresented by Americans.

Scott Speed was the most recent American to compete, but after an underwhelming tenure he was replaced by Sebastian Vettel at Toro Rosso.

Prior to that, no American had raced in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993.

It's incredible to think that no one from the United States has won a grand prix since Mario Andretti in 1978, and only four Americans have competed in F1 events since 1983 (the year after Andretti's final F1 season).