I was ecstatic when I heard of Michael Schumacher’s imminent return to Formula 1 late last year. Schumi was asked by Ferrari brass to deputise for the injured Felipe Massa for the final few races of the 2009 season. The Brazilian was injured in a freak accident caused by an errant spring detaching itself from the rear wing of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car. While fans the world over were still unpacking their MS branded Ferrari jackets and Deutsche Vermogensbedonnerd caps, the seven-times world champion called off his return. He cited an unhealed neck injury, sustained during a motorcycle race as the reason for not being able to race an F1 car in anger.
Now, if you followed the 2009 F1 season carefully, you would have noticed two things about the Ferrari F1 car: one, that even the talented Kimi Raikkonen battled to extract pace from it. The 2007 champion netted a single victory all season. And two, multiple race-winner Giancarlo Fisichella – who was given the drive in Schumacher’s absence – was left floundering as badly as Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer. This essentially meant that one needed lots of time to familiarise oneself with the ill-handling F60 to extract any decent pace from it. With that information in mind Schumacher’s decision not to race for the Scuderia does not seem like a bad one.
Fast forward a few months and no sooner had the ink dried on the contract whereby Mercedes-Benz took over the Brawn GP, the German outfit announced Schumi would be one of the driving strength. Now that is more in line with the shrewdness we have come to expect from the sport’s most prolific driver. Taking over the helm of the championship winning car would ensure a certain level of success. As opposed to taking a slow Ferrari and turning it into a race winner, as he has successfully done before. And the fact that he is reunited with ex-Benetton and Ferrari team-mate, Ross Brawn surely helped coax him out of retirement. Michael returns to a sport he dominated for the better part of a decade with renewed enthusiasm. He confirmed as much in interviews conducted during pre-season testing, “my batteries were empty at the end of 2006 that I retired. Now my batteries are fully loaded again!” It sounds very much like the oldest man in the field, he turned 41 in January, is ready for action.
Michael won’t have it all his own way though. Since he retired at the end of 2006, there have been three new champions, one for each year and they will all be out to prove that they are faster than the 91-time F1 victor. Not to mention a few young chargers such as Vettel, Kubica and co who will all be looking to put one over the more seasoned pilot.
Naysayers may claim that Schumacher has it all to lose by returning to the sport that has treated him so well. I disagree. I think that he has NOTHING to lose. He has won more titles than anyone is likely to, ever again. Has more races wins, scored more points and earned more money competing in a field that he openly admits adoration for. If he wins, people will say that he never lost it. And if he does not, they will say he is an old racer that is past his prime, which is precisely what he is.
In pre-season testing the Regenmeister has shown that he has lost none of his natural ability behind the wheel. The new no-refuelling rules should suit the master tactician. And it seems that he has already fired off the first psychological warning shots in a pre-season interview, “I am fully convinced that we have a car that is able to fight for the championship”.
Regardless of how you feel about the man, one can’t help admit that Michael Schumacher’s return to the sport will reignite the interest of several hundred thousand dormant F1 fans, and THAT can only be good for a sport that we all love.