Michael Schumacher in the MercedesGP wind tunnel © MercedesGP
It’s official, then. Michael Schumacher WILL be making his return to a Formula 1 cockpit in 2010 with MercedesGP. The nay-sayers believed, right up until the last minute, that it wasn’t going to happen but we’ve got the confirmation in black and white and with some pretty pictures from the good people at the team formerly known as Brawn, formerly known as Honda, formerly known as BAR, formerly known as British American Racing, formerly known as Tyrrell.
We’ve now got the opportunity to witness something truly incredible. We’ll have the very best of the new generation taking on the man who many consider to be one of, if not the single greatest driver of all time. Schumacher himself never really got to compete with the greats whom he’d watched race as a kid. OK he got a few seasons against Senna and Prost, but that was it. Prost retired at the end of 1993 and Senna was ripped away from the world early in the 1994 season, and so there was never really that passing down of the mantle.
Similarly, Schumacher’s retirement at the end of the 2006 season meant we never got to see him take on Hamilton or Vettel, or to compete against the Kubicas or Rosbergs of the world in decent cars and with sufficient experience under their belts. Now we have Alonso in a Ferrari, the youngsters with the benefit of experience and with decent cars, and the old master making a return to a championship-winning team. The ingredients are all there for an amazing 2010 season.
There are still those, however, who say it’s a bad idea, that he’s on a hiding to nothing, that he’s too old… that it’s all one horrible mistake.
I couldn’t disagree more, however. And I’ll tell you why.
Last night I got to witness something I never thought I would see. A Beatle, and not just any Beatle but my favourite Beatle, live, in concert. Sir Paul McCartney rocked out the O2 in London last night, and my wife and I had managed to get tickets. It was, without question, the best gig I have ever been to.
Me... at the gig... and very, very excited!
That McCartney would be so superb however was not a given. I may be an almighty fan, but I’m not naive enough to have gone along believing that time would not have taken its toll on the performance. But, incredibly, it really hadn’t. He didn’t miss a beat all night. His voice was clear and strong and he nailed every note… even the high ones. He turned his hand from his classic Hofner violin bass, to rhythm and lead guitar, ukulele, mandolin and piano. He looked amazing, bounced around the stage, and almost lifted the roof off the venue.
And here’s the thing. He’s 67 years old. He’s been writing and performing music pretty much constantly for the past 50 years. He, along with the Beatles, changed the face of modern music. They were the first band to break the mould of writing their own music rather than being given songs to sing. With their show at New York’s Shea Stadium they pretty much created the modern stadium gig, and when they realised they couldn’t be everywhere at once and started sending promotional videos to TV stations when they released songs, they pretty much invented MTV and the music video.
And there he was. On stage. Still giving it all he had. The old songs sounded amazing, but the new songs sounded just as incredible. He remains relevant (one of his new tunes has just been nominated for a Golden Globe) and at 3 hours in length his show put the likes of MUSE (90 minutes) and Kings of Leon (an hour) to shame. And they’re supposed to be the best live acts in the world right now!!! McCartney was called back on stage three times for encores. Three times. It blew me away.
Paul McCartney @ the O2
It’s funny though, because with today’s news that Mr Schumacher is making a comeback to F1, I see something of a parallel between the two.
Both have changed the way we view the worlds to which they have dedicated their lives. They’ve both been through the mill and done things that, in hindsight might be considered to have been ill thought through. For Michael there’s Adelaide ’94, Jerez ’97 and good old Rascasse in Monaco, while for McCartney there’s the Frog Chorus and a couple of dodgy duets with Michael Jackson. Neither one of them is as young as they used to be, or as young as the majority of people who now rule their industry.
But they’re both the very best at what they do. They are inspirations as much today as they ever have been, and their desire to keep working at the very top level only adds to their mystique and their legend.
For me, I’m just delighted however. I never thought I would get to see McCartney in concert, but I have. It was a truly awe-inspiring event and one I will remember for the rest of my life. Similarly, my journalistic career has been such that I never really got to sink my teeth too deeply into Formula 1 when Schumacher was around and racing. I was still very young, and very green. His comeback gives me an opportunity I thought had slipped away forever – to watch and write about one of the all-time greats.
I had waited 28 years for last night’s concert, and it could have been one almighty let down. But it wasn’t. It was completely the opposite. And that’s the barometer of class. That kind of talent never falters, never gives any less than 150%, and always leaves you wanting more.
I hope that when Schumacher comes back next year for his encore performance, we are left on our feet, applauding something tremendous. And something tells me he wouldn’t be coming back at all, if he didn’t have some great memories to leave us with.