Schumacher: Greatest sports comeback ever
23 December, 2009
The return of Michael Schumacher to Formula 1 is being hailed as the biggest comeback in sports history. Who can argue with that statement?
Here we have the mouth watering prospect of the most successful Grand Prix winner of all time returning to the sport that made him a living legend. At 41 he will be taking on some of the best drivers on the planet who are almost half his age.
Love him or loathe him Michael Schumacher set the benchmark for his and this generation’s racing drivers. He involuntary inherited the mantle of the F1’s trend setter upon the death of his great rival; Ayrton Senna in 1994. Since then he has gone on to notch up seven drivers’ championships, 91 Grand Prix race victories, 76 fastest laps in a race, 68 pole positions, 1,369 points scored and most races won in a single season – he owns the Formula 1 records book.
Those who have been close to Schumacher, since his retirement at the end of 2006, have always believed that the German had unfinished business in Formula 1 racing. Let us not forget that Ferrari almost shoved Schumi out the door to make way for the “right driver at the time” Kimi Raikkonen. Maranello made amends by bestowing a bunch of honorary roles for their German legend. But truth be told it was an undignified and unceremonious way to dump the driver that returned the Italian team to greatness which Schumi took on his formidable chin.
Neverthless he never quite came to terms of sitting on the sidelines, bedecked in all the Ferrari gear, headphones and cool shades, watching or supposedly advising. Hence his foray into Superbike racing, annual appearances at the Race of Champions and competing in karting events whenever he gets the chance. The competitive bug is very much alive and kicking.
The world was nearly treated to a sensational comeback in August 2009 when Schumacher stuck up his hand to replace Ferrari’s Felipe Massa who was severely injured in a freak accident during Hungarian GP qualifying. At the time the news was sensational, but fell flat when Schumi opted out due to “health reasons” – a neck injury sustained in a Superbike testing accident was given as the reason for the about turn.
Although this episode is done and dusted, there are indications that Schumacher was aware that he would be taking over a beast of a car in the Ferrari F60, arguably the worst Ferrari chassis in recent history. It took Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa half a season to come to terms with the intricacies of the F60 and the eventual replacements for Massa, Luca Badoer and later Giancarlo Fisichella, were woefully exposed and their careers took a severe battering.
Who knows he might even have got a call from former brother in arms and mate Ross Brawn telling him that the Ferrari F1 was a tortoise and to sit tight there were some interesting developments in the pipeline…
Had Schumacher been in their place would he have fared much better? Perhaps yes afterall he is Schumi, but no ways would he be the dominant force that people would have expected. He would have probably ended up with a huge dollop of mud in his eye. Shrewd call not to return at that time.
Now, four months later, Schumacher’s potential comeback has dominated world headlines since the chequered flag fell at the end of the season in Abu Dhabi. It is reported that the seven times World Champion was deeply disappointed in not being able to make a return to F1 at the time and his comeback appetite was voracious, but it would not be happening with Ferrari as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are firmly ensconced at Maranello. Credit to Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo who then tried to play the three cars per team card but to no avail. Ferrari had no place for Schumi in their cars and apparently in their team too, as Alonso is said to have stipulated clearly in his contract that Schumi’s presence in and around the Ferrari garages and pit wall would not be part of the package. It was Alonso’s team now. A few weeks after announcing Alonso’s deal Ferrari complied by announcing that Schumi’s role in the F1 team would be nil.
Meanwhile on 13 November 2009, Mercedes and Brawn GP became officially the Mercedes Grand Prix team, hyped as the rebirth of the legendary Silver Arrows. Almost immediately Schumacher’s name started being bandied about as a possible driver. Soon Nico Rosberg was confirmed as a driver with Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica as potential team mates.
But it was clear Mercedes were intent on the Schumacher option. Apart from obtaining the most column inches imaginable from the comeback story, there was the scenario of seven times Ferrari World Champion and ambassador turning his back on the Scuderia and making his way to Mercedes. Big PR brownie points for the Stuttgart concern.
Informed sources claim that the Schumi to Merc deal was agreed within a week of the Mercedes/ Brawn GP announcement, but has been allowed to linger on as the ongoing speculation has done no harm on the PR front for all concerned.
Apart from the hype, Schumacher’s comeback is well calculated considering his “need” to return. He will be reunited with the other half of the “Dream Team” that propelled Ferrari to such great heights not so long ago, namely Ross Brawn. He would also be going back to Mercedes the team that gave him his break into the upper echelons of motorsport in their Silver Arrows sports car team in the early nineties. And a very well funded team too. He would be part of the 2009 world championship squad and of course patriotic reasons – Mercedes is German and all that.
Thus the world of motorsport ,and sports in general, gets a fantastic Christmas present from Mercedes, Brawn Schumacher et al. They also set the scene for one of the most intriguing seasons of Formula 1 which will no doubt have F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone rubbing his hands in anticipation of those all important TV ratings shooting through the roof. Everyone will be intent on watching, and to a certain extent being part of, the greatest sporting comeback ever and the deal is done. Roll on 2010!
Report by The Insider