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?