YEONGAM, South Korea Oct 23 (Reuters) - Michael Schumacher is masking his true feelings about his disappointing Formula One comeback, the man who presided over the seven times world champion's greatest years said on Saturday.
Former Ferrari team boss Jean Todt, now president of the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), suggested that the 41-year-old German's relaxed public demeanour was a smokescreen.
"I don't think he is so relaxed, but he is a very proud guy and you need to know him very well before he will speak to you and tell you exactly what he feels," the Frenchman told news agency reporters in a rare interview at the South Korean Grand Prix.
"He is protecting himself, which I can understand, but he is a very human, very fragile person, and he's not at all this strong kind of a robot as he was portrayed very often in his career."
If Ferrari was like a second family to Schumacher, the most successful driver in the history of the sport, his relationship with Todt was particularly close.
"He is like a son," Todt had declared in October last year when Schumacher, who has returned with Mercedes after three years' out, accompanied him to the FIA presidential election that he won.
The Frenchman knows plenty about pressure himself, even now keeping the fingernails on one hand taped over to prevent himself chewing them.
"Michael is a very close friend and somebody I respect highly," said Todt.
"He is a very strong-minded guy and he chose to come back...I'd rather see him in Formula One than riding a motor bike. I think it is much safer," he added.
"He thought very carefully about the opportunity of coming back...However talented you are, if you stop for three years and if you don't drive the best car, it will not be easy -- which is the case.
"He made the choice to come back. He may decide to stop. Is he putting in all his heart and all his effort? The answer is yes."
Schumacher has said he is focusing on next year, when Mercedes hope to provide him with a winning car, but there are still those in the Formula One paddock who would not rule out an exit before then.
The German joined Todt's team at the end of 1994 with two championships. By the time he retired in 2006, he had helped the Italian team to their greatest period of dominance with five successive drivers' titles.
Todt hoped that the German could add to his record tally of 91 wins but rejected any idea that failure to secure another victory would destroy his legacy.
"What is certain is that he is a seven-times world champion with 91 wins, and nobody will take that away," he said.
"The day he decides to stop he will either not have improved on that, or he will have increased those successes, but that will remain on his career CV.
"If his team-mate is winning grands prix and he is not, probably it will be more difficult. But for him, his team, the sport, and all the people who are supporting him, I hope he is in a position where he is again driving a winning car."
Schumacher has yet to appear on the podium in 16 races this season, with his best result fourth places in Spain and Turkey, and has scored less than half the points of young team mate Nico Rosberg.
The German was reprimanded on Saturday for impeding the Williams of his former Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello in qualifying.
(Editing by Justin Palmer; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)