Germany coming to terms with new Schumacher
To mark his homecoming after three years in retirement, Michael Schumacher has his own official merchandise stalls at Hockenheim.
Many of the goods on sale - model cars, badges, T-shirts and mugs - bear the slogan 'Comeback - his biggest challenge'. That tag-line has turned out to be uncannily accurate.
Schumacher's marketing team are putting a positive spin on what has been a difficult return to Formula 1.
But there is no hiding the reality that the seven-time world champion has struggled on his comeback, out-qualified by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg all but twice in 2010.
Best finishes of fourth in Barcelona and Istanbul have done little for Schumacher's quest for an eighth crown and with more than half the season run he is 109 points off Lewis Hamilton's championship lead.
But are the German fans still buying into the idea that Schumacher's comeback at the age of 41 is simply another test to prove that he is the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time?
"I've been a Schumacher fan for 14 years," says Michael Dlunnal (pictured below), who is decked out in face paint, a Mercedes shirt, custom-made Schumacher jeans, scarf and flag - and carrying his own home-made Mercedes F1 nose cone.
"I was watching TV when I saw that Schumacher was driving again for Mercedes and I sat down, said and did nothing.
"I was thinking: 'Oh my goodness, now I need to change all my outfit from red to silver.'"
But when I asked him if he was sad about Schumacher's results this season, he replied: "I'm sorry, my English is not so good."
It is almost incomprehensible for many of Schumacher's die-hard fans that the seven-time world champion is not competing at the front.
In many ways, Schumacher - the sport's record holder for titles (seven), points scored (1,369) and wins (91) among other marks - has succeeded in transcending Formula 1.
German journalist Michael Schmidt, who writes for Auto Motor Und Sport magazine, explains: "Michael was a hero in Germany and without him Formula 1 did not exist.
"I remember the guy who was running television channel RTL, who have the rights for F1, saying: 'There are sports that are interesting to us - football, tennis and Michael Schumacher.'"
"The media here only sold Michael Schumacher, not the sport.
"When Sebastian Vettel was driving for the championship last year the TV figures were only 50% of what they have now with Michael, which is ridiculous.
Michael Schumacher merchandise for sale at the German Grand Prix
"So he is a hero for people and the fact that he came back has made him an even bigger hero."
Organisers of the grand prix at Hockenheim say ticket sales initially rose around Christmas time when Schumacher confirmed that he was coming out of retirement.
But as the season wore on - and Schumacher continued to struggle - sales have declined and a circuit spokesperson conceded: "The Schumacher-effect is not visible."
An estimated 65,000-70,000 people are expected to turn up for race day, with 180,000 fans due over the three days.
At the last race here in 2008, 220,000 people came through the gates, although officials say past attendance figures were generously estimated.
Among the wearers of Schumacher Ferrari-era caps and Silver Arrows garb at the track, many are more realistic about the 41-year-old's performance this season.
"I respect Michael when he says he wants to win the title," says Sascha Stappel from Illesheim. "But I think it's a long, hard way for him.
"Formula 1 is better than the last time he was competing; the young drivers like Sebastian Vettel have more power and mental strength."
Gerd Faehler from Berlin agrees: "We were more or less expecting him to struggle because after he joined Ferrari in 1996 he didn't win anything in his first season.
Michael Schumacher signs an autograph on his way into the Hockenheim on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
"I don't think he has lost much of his performance but it might take Mercedes another two years to get back to the top because the distance from the top teams is too far at the moment."
If the car is to blame then fans can rest assured that Mercedes are already focusing a share of their programme on an improved 2011 version.
But Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, who masterminded all seven of Schumacher's titles at Benetton and Ferrari, says Schumacher is still learning, in particular how to adapt his driving style to this year's narrower front tyres.
The fans here in Germany, decked out in Schumacher memorabilia, are only too aware of his past achievements - although the gentleman in the red 'Schumacher - Six-time World Champion' T-shirt might need bringing up to date on the 2004 season.
Schumacher's return to the sport represented a risk, not only to his fragile neck, but to his reputation.
"I start to doubt whether he can be a winning driver again," says Schmidt, who has seen every single F1 race Schumacher has contested.
"If he doesn't pick up speed again I really have to say maybe he should not have come back.
"You couldn't expect him to start at the same level where he finished in 2006 but step-by-step people are starting to doubt.
"There is a danger he is damaging his legacy, especially among the people who don't look behind the scenes and only see the results."
Schumacher is a very private person and getting an inkling of just how he is reflecting on his decision to return to the sport is difficult.
But Brawn, who counts Schumacher as a friend, says in an interview with the BBC: "I've heard lots of criticism but what people are not seeing is that Michael is loving it.
"People ought to realise that and allow him a little bit of slack as he's really enjoying himself, really enjoying the challenge and is working hard to make things better."
Even if results do not improve in the remainder of this season, Schumacher, whose profile looms large from billboards, t-shirts and banners in Hockenheim, is still an irresistible force in Formula 1.
Supporter Stappel adds: "If Schumacher is 10th, 20th or first - that is not the reason we come to the race.
"The main reason is that we can see him race. He's a superstar and yes, you can say that we are happy simply that he is back."