Michael Schumacher’s return to Formula One will be a welcome breath of fresh air for a sport filled with scandal, writes Richard Chambers
It was perhaps inevitable that seven-time Formula One World Champion, Michael Schumacher, would return to the circuit after only three years of retirement. Schumacher, formerly of Ferrari, will compete as part of close friend Ross Brawn’s Mercedes GP team in 2010.
The move comes after Schumacher attempted to participate in the 2009 Driver’s Championship as a replacement for the injured Felipe Massa, but was prevented from doing so after sustaining neck injuries in a motorcycle accident. After contract negotiations with World Champion Jensen Button broke down, however, a path was paved for star’s return.
The German has signed a three-year contract with the newly designated Mercedes team, which captured both the Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships under the mantle of Brawn GP in 2009. The German agreed to reunite with Brawn, who had guided him to each of his seven titles at Benetton and Ferrari, only after inspecting the team’s production facilities in Brixworth. Schumacher found himself won over by the enthusiasm and competence of the staff at Mercedes, remarking that “the people seem to be highly motivated as well, and I find that encouraging as it perfectly fits my personal mood.”
The union of the engineering resources of Mercedes and the technical expertise of Schumacher should make for a formidable combination, while the return of the 41-year-old should also rejuvenate a sport that has suffered many difficulties since his retirement in 2006. The Max Mosley scandal, the controversy surrounding Flavio Briatore’s involvement in Nelson Piquet Jr’s crash at Singapore in 2008, the demise of several teams, and mandatory budget cuts in the financial crisis have left motorsport in desperate need of revival.
Schumacher’s impending comeback will be welcomed for the most part by observers and participants alike. The likes of Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica and compatriot Sebastien Vettel will be eager to race against a figure that provided inspiration as they competed in the junior categories. Others, however, will be less welcoming.
Critics of Schumacher have pointed to his overt aggression in previous championships. His triumph in the 1994 championship was overshadowed by his incapacitation of Damon Hill’s Williams in an intentional crash, while a similar feat was attempted against Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Schumacher’s last season in 2006 was characterised with the heated rivalry between Schumacher and Spaniard Fernando Alonso, with the German obstructing Alonso’s qualification at Monaco.
Alonso now heads the team with which Schumacher captured so many famous victories and one could say the Italian constructor’s decision to install the Spaniard may have antagonised the German. Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali stated that Alonso “has everything” to beat Schumacher, pointing to the 2005 and 2006 seasons in which Alonso emerged the champion.
The rivalry with Alonso, and the challenge of worldbeating Britons Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, will provide a tantalising edge to the 2010 World Championship. Schumacher’s palpable competitive spirit and incomparable urge to succeed will mean that securing an unprecedented eighth title is the ultimate goal for his season. At the age of 41, Schumacher may not be able to add to his championship tally, but a prolonged challenge may add to the mystique of a man who has defined his sport like no other.