Williams BMW team has ordered Ralf Schumacher to improve his on-track performance, but BMW motorsport and his manager Willi Weber have rallied to defend the German.

Williams BMW team has ordered Ralf Schumacher to improve his on-track performance, but BMW motorsport and his manager Willi Weber have rallied to defend the German.

Although Ralf scored points in both grands prix of the season, he has qualified poorly at both events. He lies eighth in the world championship, but his team-mate Juan-Pablo Montoya is third.

Furthermore, many believe that the five-time world champion’s brother is preoccupied with a German magazine report, which appeared in the days running up to the Malaysian Grand Prix, and claims that Ralf is gay and that his wife was having an affair.

Schumacher, who reportedly earns R40 million more per season than Montoya, was this week sent a letter from team principal Frank Williams and technical director Patrick Head telling him that they are not happy with his performances so far this year.

A Williams source said: "At the moment Frank and Patrick do not feel Ralf is giving them value for money and told him so in no uncertain terms in the letter they sent him."

"They know what Ralf is capable of and they are anxious for him to start performing at that level. They want him to pull his finger out and race at the front," he added.

Ralf has admitted that he needed to work harder at certain aspects of his driving. "I know I must improve in qualifying because managing to get the best possible set-up of my car in a very short time has always been one of my strengths," the German said.

"It is important to qualify well because the new rules mean a lot can happen during the race and I cannot always rely on the chance of coming up through the field," he added.

Fortunately for Ralf, he has a strong ally in BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. Ralf's contract is up for renewal at the end of the 2004 season, and Theissen would like to see the team keep its current driver line-up. “Not only will it allow Williams to have continuity but it is also good for BMW,” Thiessen said.

"Essentially the team's continuity is a major factor," Theissen told . "We want to work with the same drivers, they know the car, the engine, and the team. I think Williams has to keep both drivers, Ralf Schumacher, and Juan-Pablo Montoya."

Meanwhile, Weber has revealed that Ralf was distraught by the claims made in the German media.

“It was very difficult for Ralf," the manager explained. "Inside the car he is fine, but all the stuff outside is a different matter. He can't just cut it out when newspaper stories say he is gay and his wife is having an affair. Then they apologise and say there was a mistake. What the hell do they think they are doing to the guy? He is a human being - of course it affected him."

"In the circumstances, he drove an excellent race in Malaysia. I know he can beat (team-mate Juan Pablo) Montoya and win races. He is 100 per cent motivated and will show what he can do. He is definitely a world champion of the future," Webber added.