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.
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.