Even more on the Mercedes wheel rims – update: LEGAL.

Faster than ever? Will Merc roll out new wheel rims in Malaysia pitstops?

Morning all.

I’ve just got into the track here in Malaysia, and the issue of those Mercedes wheel rims is something that is starting to get a bit of attention.

Yesterday we touched on the 2011 Formula 1 technical regulations and whether the use of an attached wheel nut on a wheel rim would be legal or not. The general feeling is that the regulations referred to yesterday were written primarily with the intention of removing wheel “spinners” from the sport.

However what it appears Mercedes have produced would, I and others believe, be within regulation. I am also aware, however, that it is something the FIA has its eye on.

Now we just need to keep a beady eye on those Merc pitstops to see if the system’s getting a roll out this weekend.

UPDATE: I have just had confirmation from the FIA that the system shown in the photo I displayed yesterday of the MercedesGP wheel rim with wheel nut apparently attached IS legal. Well done Mercedes, now lets see if they use it, how fast it is, and how long it takes the other teams to cotton on.

Those Mercedes wheel rims… an update

The Mercedes wheel rim and apparent wheel nut.
Image used with kind permission of XPB.CC

I’ve just been shown the FIA regulations regarding wheel rims and they make for interesting reading.

Here they are:

12.8.1 The only parts which may be physically attached to the wheel in addition to the tyre are surface treatments for appearance and protection, valves for filling and discharging the tyre, balance weights, drive pegs, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring devices and spacers on the inboard mounting face of identical specification on all wheels for the same axle.

12.8.2 The wheel must be attached to the car with a single fastener. The outer diameter of the fastener must not exceed 105mm and the axial length must not exceed 75mm. The wheel fastener may not attach or mount any part to the car except the wheel assembly described in Article 12.8.1.

What is interesting is that wheel fasteners / wheel nuts are not included in the list in 12.8.1 of things that are allowed to be attached to the wheel assembly / rim. And yet in Article 12.8.2 it states that a wheel fastener may not be attached to any part of the car other than those very same wheel assemblies.

So what does this mean?

Right now, not a lot as I don’t have clarification yet from Mercedes of what I saw. Similarly, we have no idea if what I saw will be or was ever intended to be raced.

It was pitstop practice. Just like in a practice match of soccer, you can play 16 men and use your hands if you really want to, so in a pitstop practice the team doesn’t have to use the very same devices it will use in race conditions.

But from the way the regulations are worded, could there be space for a loophole? And if so, could this be something Mercedes are thinking about exploiting? Because from the image above, it certainly looks that way.

Watch this space.

Mercedes to use NASCAR pitstop tech?

MercedesGP in the pits, Malaysia 2011.

I was walking the pitlane this morning while MercedesGP was conducting pitstop practice, and a photographer pointed something out to me that I had not seen before.

The tyres waiting to be changed onto the car already had what looked to be the wheel nuts attached to the wheel rims. Similarly, those that were taken off the car still appeared to have the nuts attached. The guns did not appear to pull a nut off nor put one on, merely to unscrew the existing one and then tighten the replacement.

This kind of technology is nothing new to fans of NASCAR. In that series, each wheel rim features five wheel nuts (or “lug nuts” as they are termed Stateside), which are attached to the rim with an adhesive. When a car comes into the box, those five nuts are loosened and the wheel removed with the nuts still attached, before the new wheel is placed on the car and the five attached nuts tightened.

The importance of this is that it speeds up the pitstop process and eliminates the chances of a wheel nut falling onto the floor or the thread becoming crossed.

In 2010 Mercedes topped the average pitstop time, recording the fastest stop in (if memory serves and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am wrong) eight races, although world champions Red Bull racing recorded the actual fastest stop of the season.

From what I could see this morning it did not appear that all spare tyres had the nuts already attached to the rims, but there could be two reasons for this. First, that the team is still experimenting with the system before rolling it out at a later date. Or secondly, that there are only so many of these new nuts to go around and that they have only been attached to the rims to be used in practice, before being switched onto the rims for the race.

Now I could be barking up completely the wrong tree, so I requested confirmation from the team once practice was over. I’ve also put in a quick request to the FIA just to double check there’s nothing prohibiting this kind of thing, as it seems like a fairly simple and obvious solution to the wheel nut issue and one which we surely would have seen by now unless it is banned. I’m not suggesting MercedesGP would be doing anything illegal, but as colleagues and I have agreed this morning, it seems like such a simple and effective idea that for only one team to have suddenly stumbled across it would seem odd.

As soon as I get word from either avenue, I will update.

If I’m right and this is what Mercedes are doing, and if it is a success, we could probably expect to see something similar appearing at the other teams over the next few races as I don’t believe, and again do correct me if I’m wrong, that any other team is doing something similar.

Rosberg to get new engineer

Nico Rosberg: Suzuka 2010 - © Sutton Images

Nico Rosberg is set to have a new (old) engineer in 2011.

The Mercedes driver commented in his media time yesterday afternoon that there would be some personnel changes at the team over the winter as the German manufacturer strives to move forwards and into a position to fight for race wins. When pressed on the matter, Rosberg defaulted to stating that he and the team had agreed not to discuss specifics at this time.

However, I understand that Nico will be reunited with his former Williams engineer Tony Ross next season, with the Englishman jumping ships from Williams to Mercedes.

Rosberg did say yesterday that “nobody is getting fired,” which has led myself and colleagues to speculate that his current engineer Jock Clear may move into a more general Director of Engineering style role next season.

A Mercedes spokesperson told me moments ago that the team would not be confirming names or changes in personnel for the moment but if my sources are correct, and I believe that they are, then it would appear that Rosberg is beginning to stamp his authority at the team and move it, or at the very least move his side of the garage, in a direction which better suits him.

Ross and Rosberg look set to be reunited in 2011 © Sutton Images

Woah, what’s going on?

Sorry for the lack of blogging of late. What with new job, new child and the start of the world cup, I have been somewhat busy. No excuse, I know.

Anyway, I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts that I’ve got running around my melon at the moment – as much to try and compartmentalise and make sense of them to myself, as much as to bring you some semblance of comment or opinion.

So, in the words of Marvin Gaye – Woah, what’s going on?

The issue of tyres in 2011 has become something of a mess. The basic synopsis is thus: The FIA and Michelin agreed terms, but the teams and Bernie weren’t happy that the deal had been done without consulting them. All of a sudden up crops Cooper/Avon and Pirelli with rival bids. Cooper/Avon is quickly dismissed despite the company’s links with Bernie, and Pirelli, new GP3 supplier in 2010, almost immediately appears to be the most likely choice. The tyres will be cheap, but the company won’t put as much into the sport in terms of trackside signage etc. Michelin’s bosses declare themselves somewhat upset that their sure deal has fallen through, and come back in at the eleventh hour in Turkey to try and salvage the deal. Their tyres will be more expensive, but they’ll provide more trackside signage of which the teams receive a cut.

Pirelli currently supplies the GP3 Series

Then there are the tech regs. We’re expecting tyres to stay at 18 inches for the next two years before switching to low profile tyres in 2013. Any new tyre deal will need to be run for a minimum of three seasons, meaning that whoever comes in will have to do so under an agreement that they will have to design two types of tyre. For Pirelli this will be something of an annoyance, but for Michelin it is all fairly simple as they still have the moulds for 18 inchers from their last F1 appearance, and they have low profile tyres in use in sportscars.

Then there’s the role of the FIA. It now seems clear that one of the reasons Jean Todt has been so quiet is that the role of the FIA President in Formula 1 has been enormously marginalised by the increased strength and power of FOTA. FOTA’s decision to wade into the tyre debate came after the teams felt the FIA President had overstepped his mark by as good as agreeing terms with Michelin before they’d even been consulted. Now there is the argument that the FIA should not be involved in the decision at all because with the teams paying for tyres this is a commercial issue. Not so, says the FIA, as the choice of tyres is a sporting a safety issue, and thus of course involves the FIA. But if it involves the FIA, then the FIA has broken its own rules as the supply deal was never officially put out to tender.

Interviewing Jean Todt on the Monaco grid
© http://www.sutton-images.com

I asked Martin Whitmarsh, FOTA Chairman, in Canada whether this was all essentially politics, and the FIA President stamping his feet, Rumplestiltskin style, in order to get himself heard for the first time in his Presidency. He simply gave me one of those knowing looks, smiled, and laughed, before giving me a beautifully neutral answer.

Whatever the political factors behind the decision, we now understand that the deal will be announced with Pirelli shortly.

All of which leaves us with little time to develop the tyres before next year. There has been much talk that the work will be carried out by Nick Heidfeld in a Toyota F1 car, as this is the easiest way to avoid any conflict of interests and any team gaining an advantage.

Ah, but hold on a minute. Nick Heidfeld is Mercedes’ tester. So what you ask? Well for some, myself included, the last thing anybody wants is a return to the days when teams become so engrained with tyre companies that a certain type of tyre was designed almost exclusively for that one team. In the 2000s it was Bridgestone and Ferrari, and the Ross Brawn / Michael Schumacher / Ferrari / Bridgestone combo reaped massive rewards. Today, in a car designed for someone else and on tyres designed for the sport rather than for him, Michael Schumacher is struggling to show us any sign of his apparent genius. Sticking Heidfeld on tyre testing duties would, I feel, be a massive mistake and a big step back to the days of old as it would hand an advantage back to Mercedes.

Will Mercedes and Schumacher benefit if Heidfeld runs tyre tests?
© http://www.sutton-images.com

You want a great tester, with a feel for tyres, no conflict of interest, and with relevant recent F1 experience, you call Anthony Davidson. Simple as.

And as for the Toyota… well here’s another interesting thing. Rumours in Canada were rife that one of the prospective new teams intend to use the 2010 Toyota which never saw the light of day as the basis for their 2011 car should they be given the entry. It’s a very sensible plan, and would allow the team in question to enter the sport with a firm foundation and what looks, from the photos we’ve seen, to be a very tidy car indeed. Simply take off the double diffuser, stick KERS back in, and you’re ready to run.

The team rumoured to be talking to Toyota about using their racer which never raced is ART, and it is just the kind of sensible decision I would expect to come from Nicolas Todt and Frederic Vasseur.

My one fear in all of this is how ART will be perceived if the team is given the nod for F1 in 2011. I fear that the media at large will come down hard on the FIA and on Jean Todt, claiming nepotism and a conflict of interests should his son’s team be granted a grid place in Formula 1. But any such suggestions will be made to score cheap political points. ART is, from what we know of the prospective entries, by far and away the strongest potential new F1 team. It has big funding in place, and in terms of class there is perhaps no other team at a sub-F1 level which has consistently proved itself to be so strong – be it GP2, F3 or GP3. There is no better team out there than ART.

But if ART end up using as a basis for their car, the very same car that was used to develop the new 2011 tyres, then again a conflict of interests will no doubt be called, and if it is overlooked then the relationship between Jean and Nicolas will again be questioned. It shouldn’t be so, but I fear it is just too easy for some to look at the shared surname and forget the individual achievements of each man on their own merits.

Nicolas Todt - a 2011 F1 team boss?
© http://www.sutton-images.com

What of the other new teams, I hear you ask? From the entries we know have gone in, only Epsilon seems to stand any real shot at a grid space. But for a team determined to build its car from scratch at its fantastic facility in Spain, a decent lead time is running short.

The chance of an American team making the grid in 2011 is also not completely out of the realms of possibility. I had a great chat with Parris Mullins, one of the men behind the still-born USF1 project, and the good news is that he now represents a group of big investors who want to start an American F1 team. Following the USF1 mess, the even better news is they don’t want to do it from scratch. Instead, they want to buy an existing team and to turn it, piecemeal, into an American team – Force India style. Bring in the sponsors, and little by little, make it American. Win hearts and minds, to adopt a well-used Americanism.

The two teams that we know are on shaky ground right now are Sauber and Toro Rosso. Sure, HRT has its problems, but with Colin Kolles on board and rumours that Geoff Willis wants to do a Ross Brawn on the team, they are looking OK. Instead it is two former race-winning teams that look the most in danger.

On present form, you’d have to say that Toro Rosso is the better option of the two, but the infrastructure at Sauber is pretty impressive. A big investment may yet be the only thing to save Sauber. The team launched its C1 (Club One) initiative in Canada which is a project to bring in sponsors who do not wish to have big branding on the car, but to remain anonymous. While my colleague Dieter Rencken has written a fascinating piece on this subject on his Daily Grapevine column on autosport.com, I have my doubts over the scheme. Afterall, haven’t we seen this before? Isn’t this simply the Honda earthdreams concept under a different name? Sure, in today’s economic climate big business doesn’t want to be seen to be frittering its money away, but those companies are unlikely to be sponsoring anybody right now anyway – their boards simply wouldn’t allow it. The days of something for nothing just do not exist. If someone, anyone, is putting money into a project, I don’t think anybody can be naive enough to seriously believe that they wouldn’t want an increased public perception of their brand in return. It didn’t work for Honda, so why should it work for Sauber? Perhaps that makes me naive. It’s certainly an interesting debate.

But the Americans may not be the only saviours on the horizon. With Sergio Perez a leading light in GP2 and Esteban Guttierez leading the way in GP3, the racing prospects of the Mexican nation are looking very good indeed. And with one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim, known to be interested in F1, could we yet see one of the struggling teams take on a Mexican flavour?

Sauber - problems on and off the track
© http://www.sutton-images.com

When asked about this back in Turkey, the repeated word from a high level source at Sauber was, quite simply, “We have a very good relationship and dialogue with Carlos Slim.” Is this why Guttierez remains under the wing of the team? Could we see a Mexican investment in Sauber? “Sauber Slim” anyone?

The driver market may be pretty well sorted for next season, but that doesn’t mean the news has stopped in Formula 1. There are still a lot of fascinating stories bubbling under the surface, and the next few weeks look set to be really rather intriguing.

Merc’s Classy Attention to Historical Detail

There’s been a lot made about the return to F1 of Mercedes as a constructor in its own right this season for the first time since it pulled out of motorsport at the end of the 1955 season following the Le Mans tragedy earlier that year.

Of course everyone, including the team itself, is dubbing the former Tyrrell, former BAR, former Honda, former Brawn team “the Silver Arrows,” and the parrallel between the team line-up of that 1955 season and the 2010 campaign is a rather lovely hark back to the days of old: the legendary multiple world champion (Fangio / Schumacher) being linked up with a young buck with bucket loads of talent and potential (Moss / Rosberg Jr).

With the chat coming out of Norfolk suggesting to me that Lotus’ return to F1 will be marked with a classic livery of British Racing Green and a single yellow stripe down the centre with those thin accent lines in white running alongside the yellow, it is thus heartening to see that on the ultra sleek and very 21st Century Mercedes GP W01, the team has payed homage to its history and is continuing a design trait it carried on its cars 55 years ago.

A silver car, with its drivers’ numbers in a deep red, outlined in black, on a simple white circle.

Stirling Moss - Mercedes W196
c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Mercedes GP W01 c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Is it just me, or is that class in its simplest, purest form?

Hooray for Schu…Macca

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.

Schumacher’s comeback test

Michael Schumacher © http://www.sutton-images.com

There’s a lot of noise at the moment following a report in Britain’s The Mirror newspaper, claiming that Michael Schumacher is on the verge of conducting a test in a GP2 car in Abu Dhabi, as part of his preparations for an incredible return to Formula 1 in 2010 with Mercedes.

The article was written by Byron Young, all round epic bloke and bloody good journo, and given how far ahead of the game he’s been on this whole Schuey comeback thing, you’ve got to take this story seriously because his sources thus far have been utterly impeccable.

With recent quotes from Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo stating that Schumacher had told him there is a “very, very, very strong possibility” of him coming back to F1 with Merc next year, it seems that the German’s presence in the sport in 2010 is all but a formality… or is it?

Let’s not forget that it was only a matter of months ago that we were last talking about a Schumacher comeback; one which, ultimately, was curtailed by injuries the German had sustained in a bike racing accident. The basal skull fracture he picked up meant that his vision became impaired whenever he went over a bump in his test at the wheel of a Ferrari F2007. And when you consider that at racing speeds an intolerance of a few millimetres in the road surface will feel like a speedbump, his entire F1 test must have been one blurred nightmare.

His need to test before agreeing on the Merc contract, therefore, must be for safety and medical reasons for if his injuries have not healed to the extent that both he and his manager Willi Weber hope and believe, this comeback ‘aint going anywhere.

But is he going to be testing a GP2 car? To be honest, it is not as simple as it might at first seem.

GP2 regulations are quite clear in regard to testing. Teams may only run their cars in group test sessions, and the next one of those isn’t until March, one month after F1 testing resumes. What about the old cars, then? Well they’re also a no go. The 2005-2007 iteration of the GP2 car is now the GP2 Asia car, and as such is subject to the same testing regulation. The next GP2 Asia race is in February…again, after F1 testing resumes.

All of which leaves one option… a special, one off test, organised by the GP2 organisation itself for Schumacher to drive the GP2 development car. Interestingly, Schumacher would be following in the footsteps of one of his oldest rivals, as GP2 organisers placed 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill in the original GP2 development car back in 2005.

Damon Hill tests GP2 © http://www.sutton-images.com

Of course, I am sure that the guys over in Abu Dhabi would love to have Schumacher test out there, but the logistics don’t quite stack up for me. To my mind, putting Schumacher into the GP2/08 development car at Circuit Paul Ricard is by far the most sensible and achievable option. The car is probably the closest to F1 speeds available at such short notice, and I can’t see GP2 organisers turning down the opportunity of putting Schumacher into the car. The PR potential is staggering. The car is kept at the Oreca base around the corner and could be ready to run by this afternoon if required. Plus, at Ricard it is possible to alter the track to replicate different types of circuit – low downforce runs with long straights, high downforce runs with multiple corners and fast changes of direction… if Schumacher wants to test out the strength of his neck on differing tracks, there’s nowhere better in the world than Ricard.

Michael’s own people told me that they have “given up commenting on rumours” and a spokesperson for GP2 said that the current story was “a really nice rumour.” Nobody’s saying no, which suggests to me that talks are happening.

This Schumacher comeback really is on, then. The wheels are in motion. That said, just as his mid-season comeback was ultimately curtailed by ill health, so might his full time 2010 return. Personally, I really do hope that his injuries have healed and that this GP2 test,if indeed it happens, simply confirms rather than concludes this incredible story.

Heikki or Heidfeld to partner Trulli at Lotus

The 1Malaysia Lotus F1 Team is due to announce its 2010 driver pairing in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, and today’s internet pages have been filled with the sad news that Takuma Sato is out of contention for the second seat at the squad.

I say sad because Taku is a talented driver, an incredibly nice chap, and a racer with the most recent experience of what it takes to lead a start-up team from scratch. He would have been the perfect choice from a sporting as well as commercial point of view, but Lotus has made its decision and, for whatever reason, Taku doesn’t fit the bill.

All of which seems to have cemented opinion that it will be Heikki Kovalainen who is unveiled tomorrow as a Lotus driver alongside Jarno Trulli, who is known to have been Lotus’ preferred number 1 driver from the outset.

However, my sources are telling me that all is not as clear cut as at first thought, for Heikki is not alone in the running for the second seat. With the Michael Schumacher / Mercedes saga showing no sign of abating, I have it on good authority that Lotus are still trying to decide between Heikki and one other driver… Nick Heidfeld.

Nick was always thought to be a shoe in at Mercedes, but in recent weeks has slipped further out of contention for the seat as both Michael Schumacher and Robert Kubica’s names have been heavily linked to what is increasingly becoming the critical seat of the winter period. With Taku no longer in the running for the Lotus job, and Jarno Trulli all but confirmed from the off, it now seems the second seat is a straight fight between Heikki and Heidfeld.

I understand that a decision is yet to be taken over exactly who will fill Lotus’ second seat. Kovalainen, however, is the favourite.

It is also interesting to note that neither of Lotus’ drivers will be asked to bring funding with them.

Michael and Mercedes

Felipe Massa’s kart invitational at the weekend provided evidence, as if it was ever needed, that Michael Schumacher simply doesn’t understand the concept of driving at anything less than 120%. Asked to come along and have a go by his long term pall Massa, the 2009 running of this annual event had an extra symbolism as it was the Brazilian’s first foray into competitive racing since his monster shunt at the Hungrian Grand Prix.

With the niceties over, Michael proceeded to wipe the floor with everyone in the first race. I think someone must have had a word with him after that, because Felipe managed to get the result he needed in the second race to take the overall combined victory. Everyone say ahhhhh.

It was the same at the Race of Champions, though. Stick Schumacher in a car, any car actually, and he’ll not only be competitive, he’ll be staggering. As the famous saying goes, there’s life in the old dog yet.

Massa’s karting event also showed us that Michael either likes playing games with the media or is seriously thinking about making a comeback to F1. Once again he refused to rule out making a return just as he has done since rumours first cropped up, and just as both Norbert Haug and Nick Fry avoided the issue when quizzed about Nico Rosberg’s 2010 team-mate.

And here’s the thing. It makes sense for Norbert and Nick to dodge the issue because it gives the new Mercedes team massive headline potential. It ensures the team remains the biggest news in F1. From a PR perspective, having Schumacher linked with the team is invaluable. By simply refusing to comment on the rumours, the suggestions of what might be simply compound and evolve. It makes sense for Merc to be doing it, but why would Michael do the same?

One of his biggest personal backers, Shell, are a Ferrari team sponsor. So why piss them off, knowing full well that the new Mercedes team will have backing from Mobil 1? If this is a negotiation tactic in his talks over a new Ferrari contract, it is a dangerous game. But maybe Michael doesn’t really want to stay at the Scuderia.

We know that all is not as once it was at Ferrari. Gone are the days of Mr Jean Todt, and into his place has stepped a new regime. The Domenicali era has little in common with the Todt-Schumacher face of Ferrari. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the arrival of a certain Fernando Alonso to factor in to the already complex situation. Exactly what Michael does at Ferrari and to what extent he plays a role with the F1 team has never been more in question.

We should not be surprised, therefore, to learn that Mercedes has reportedly offered Schumacher the chance to play any role he wishes at the team. If he doesn’t want to race, he can be whatever he wants and, one would imagine, would be free to name whatever price he wishes. Again, the PR of Mercedes stealing the legend back from Ferrari would be vast. If Mercedes really does want to establish itself as a German super team, Michael Schumacher’s involvement with the outfit would give it unrivalled gravitas in Germany.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that Schumacher and Mercedes have gone racing together. Almost 20 years ago, at the end of the 1990 season, Schumacher joined the Mercedes Junior Racing programme, and raced the Sauber Mercedes C11 and C291 in the World Sportscar Championship and Le Mans, coming fifth.

But the big question is whether or not Michael Schumacher, seven time F1 champion, would be willing to make a comeback. What sense would it make for him to do so after three years on the sidelines? He has achieved everything there is to achieve in Formula 1, and his reputation will live on forever. Why risk all that hard work on a foolish venture which could end in misery?

Schumacher himself has admitted that his anticipated but ultimately failed comeback with Ferrari in 2009 was born more out of passion than common sense, owing to the basal skull fracture he sustained in a bike racing accident. But the fact that he had even put himself through the immense stupidity of testing an F1 car knowing how severe his injury was gave us an insight into the brain of Michael Schumacher. For here is a man who lives for the thrill of competition. And without it, he is stagnating.

Schumacher had his Formula 1 career taken from him before he was truly ready to throw in the towel. Backed into a corner by Ferrari’s signing of Kimi Raikkonen, he had a tough choice to make of either quitting to allow his apprentice Massa to race on, or to stay on himself and ruin Felipe’s career. In the end he chose to step aside, and just to make double sure that he wouldn’t go back on his promise, Ferrari didn’t even let him make the announcement himself. They issued a press release as he was on his slowdown lap at Monza in 2006. Watch the replay of that post-race press conference with that in mind and you’ll see it in a whole new light. Those aren’t the reactions of a man emotional to be announcing his retirement. That’s not the forthright, strong, self-assured Michael Schumacher who never apologised to anyone for any one of the questionable things he’d done in his career on or off the track.

That was a man who’d had the rug pulled from under him.

Formula 1 remains unfinished business for Michael Schumacher, and that is why I think there may just be a chance that this comeback is a serious prospect. Yes he’d be 41, but Gabriele Tarquini just won the WTCC title at the age of 47. Fangio won his last F1 title at the age of 46. Sure it was a different era, but ask yourself this. Is Michael Schumacher not one of the most talented drivers this sport has ever witnessed? Like him or loathe him what nobody can deny is the man’s staggering skill.

And, while you’re at it, ask yourself this… how incredible would it be to have Schumacher back in the mix? With Button and Hamilton at McLaren, Alonso and Massa at Ferrari, don’t tell me you wouldn’t salivate over the prospect of Michael Schumacher in a Mercedes (Brawn). All that’s missing is Kimi, but a Citroen C4 probably won’t be hugely competitive in F1 next season.

Force India’s confirmation that Adrian Sutil will stay on alongside Tonio Liuzzi next season takes one of the Germans out of the equation for the superteam at Mercedes. All that’s really left on the table are the services of Nick Heidfeld and Michael Schumacher, if Ross Brawn is to be taken at his word and we assume that the team is looking for experienced F1 drivers, and we listen to Norbert Haug and assume that they need to be ones with German passports.

Yes there are other drivers out there, notably Robert Kubica who reportedly has room to wriggle out of his contract at Renault, but do any of them match up to Michael Schumacher?

His management team have confirmed to me that Willi Weber’s comments regarding Michael’s health are correct and that the seven-time world champion will be fit enough to return to an F1 cockpit by the end of 2009. Testing restrictions mean he’d only get seven days of testing under his belt… but come on people… it’s Michael Schumacher.

Is it too much to dream? Is it a step too far? Is this all just some big PR stunt?

Frankly I hope not. Because it’d be absolutely brilliant, wouldn’t it?