An early Christmas present - Schumacher returns to Formula One
Michael Schumacher, the German seven-time world champion has signed a one-year contract with Mercedes Grand Prix at the team's offices in Brackley, England, after a month of talks. German newspaper Bild reported yesterday Schumacher will earn about 7 million Euro ($10 million) for one season, and it is understood he has an option to continue beyond 2010. Schumacher himself has confirmed the news today.
On his website he wrote: "I have decided to return to Formula One. Mercedes GP and I agreed on teaming up for the coming seasons. And to be honest, I'm already super excited by the prospect to be back in a F1 cockpit." Schumacher also writes the idea of driving for a German Formula One team was extremely tempting, and when Ross Brawn approached him in November to see whether he was interested in driving for Mercedes, he realized his 'hunger' for racing was back.
About his prospects in 2010 Schumacher says: "Mercedes GP will be a new challenge for me which is extremely attractive. I have no doubt at all that the team will be really strong. They showed by winning the two world championships that there is meshing a fascinating mixture of high professionalism and deepest passion. The relation between the competence of Mercedes and the current world champion team is extremely attractive and promises a good performance."
And about his neck problems: "Physically, I feel absolutely fit. I already realized in summer how fast I achieved my former performance values by exercising specifically. And ever since, I kept on exercising. My neck is absolutely free of complaints. To put it simply: I'm totally fired up for next year!"
When Felipe Massa was badly injured during the qualification for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, Schumacher saw an opportunity to continue his career, and offered Ferrari a helping hand and proposed to replace Massa for the remainder of the season. The news caused a huge media hype, but after testing a 2007 Ferrari at Fiorano, he his neck injury, he sustained during a motorcycle race accident earlier this year, was playing up again. During a press conference he was visibly disappointed when he announced his neck injury prevented him from returning to the circuits, but it was also clear he wasn't ready to give up his plans yet. Recent statements from his former employer Luca di Montezemolo already made it clear Schumacher was very close to signing a contract.
Another marriage made in heaven?
It was often said the combination Ferrari, Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt was a marriage made in heaven, and the five championship titles Schumacher scored while driving for Ferrari proved that it was indeed a winning combination. Schumacher and Brawn had already been very successful during their time with the Benetton team, when Schumacher won the championship in 1994 and 1995. But with the best German driver of all times now onboard, and Nico Rosberg, a young and promising German driver, combined with a completely revived Mercedes team, a team that has the strong aspiration to bring back the era and successes of the Mercedes "Silberpfeile", this could become another marriage made in heaven.
After the terrible accident at Le Mans in 1955, which involved one of the Mercedes cars and cost the life's of 80 spectators, Mercedes left motor racing. But Mercedes always had been looking for a return to motor racing, and in 1994, after they bought the British Ilmor engine company, they returned to Formula One with the Swiss team of Peter Sauber, and entered the 1994 season with the Sauber Mercedes C13, powered by a Mercedes rebadged Ilmor 3.5 V10 engine.
In 1995 they became McLaren's engine supplier. McLaren and Mercedes won the championship in 1998 and 1999 with Finn Mika Hakkinen, and in 2008 with Briton Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes also owned a 40 percent stake in McLaren, but had no voice in the driver selection and in the way the team was run. After the spy-gate scandal in 2007, McLaren was disqualified from the Constructors Championship, and it became apparent Mercedes wasn't happy with the McLaren team anymore, and were considering their options whether to stay or leave Formula One. Mercedes decided they wanted to stay, and one month ago the company's plans materialized, they sold their McLaren stake and took over the Brawn GP team.
Rubens Barrichello had already left Brawn and had signed a contract with Williams, and current Formula One champion Jenson Button moved to McLaren, to become part of an all British racing team. Brawn had no drivers, but Mercedes contracted German Nico Rosberg, and the next step seemed inevitable, Mercedes wanted another German driver to join the all German team.
Did Schumacher retire too early?
So what happened in 2006? Did Schumacher retire too early? The 2007 Ferrari was certainly potent enough to score yet another championship, Kimi Rakkonen who replaced him, clinched the drivers' title that year. At the end of 2006 Schumacher's contract with Ferrari ended, and Schumacher was forced into a difficult position, Ferrari had already contracted Raikkonen for the 2007 season early in 2006, and if Schumacher wouldn't retire, his friend and team mate Brazilian Felipe Massa would have to leave the team. Schumacher took his time to make his decision, but during the 2006 Monza Grand Prix he announced he would quit Formula One.
But he wanted to stay involved in Formula One and after his retirement he took on a rather meaningless role as an advisor for the Ferrari team. During the last three years Schumacher has always remained very competitive, he maintained his fitness and also got involved in motorcycle racing and the annual Race of Champions and karting events. And proved time after time he was still very competitive and still in a great physical shape, and there were no doubts about his motivation, he still wanted to win races, he was still as hungry as ever.
Will Schumacher's return be successful?
In the past other great drivers returned to Formula One; Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Alan Jones, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve. Is it a coincidence they are all World Champions? Can't they get enough, do they want to score yet another championship? Only Lauda and Prost managed to do so, the others miserably failed and couldn't even win a race, except Nigel Mansell, who scored his last Formula One win during the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.
It must be said that Andretti replaced the injured Didier Pironi at Ferrari in 1982, and wasn't eyeing a full race return, and we must also note that Prost took a one-year sabbatical when he could not find a winning car for the 1992 season. Only Lauda made a truly impressive return to Formula One in 1982 after leaving the sport in 1979, he was competitive from the word go, and won the championship for the third time in 1984. A truly remarkable achievement.
As said before, there are no doubts about his motivation, and Schumacher would certainly not have signed for Mercedes before carefully examining the possibilities the team has to offer him. Although Schumacher can drive a bad car to the first place, he will certainly not settle for a season of scoring some points for Mercedes and simply have a good time, while others are fighting for the championship. That's just not Schumacher worthy. And there are more records to be broken, he could become the most successful Formula One returnee ever. And about his driving skills we can be short, no one on this planet can drive a car like Schumacher, racing is his second nature. He is the master of going faster.
Although he will be the oldest driver on the grid in 2010, Schumacher will be 41 in January next year, his age will not be a problem, according to former Formula One champions, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill.
Mansell, who won the title when he was 39 and competed in Formula One until the age of 41: "It doesn't matter what age you are as long as you are professional, committed and focused. Michael has tremendous experience and talent, and Mercedes will provide him with a fantastic package. He is extremely fit and we can take his commitment and professionalism for granted".
"I honestly do not think it would be wrong for Michael Schumacher to come back," Hill commented in the UK Times newspaper. "If I can win a race when I was 37 in a Jordan, then Michael can definitely win a race in a Mercedes car at 41."
During the 2009 season we have seen that the car was the key to win the championship, drivers Button and Barrichello were written off by the end of their disastrous Honda 2008 season, and as Barrichello put it: "People were already bringing flowers to our grave". We all would have laughed if anyone would have predicted that Brawn GP would clinch both championship titles in 2009. But against all odds Ross Brawn and his team led drivers Button and Barrichello to the top of the championship.
Mercedes will certainly not have the same advantage in 2010 as Brawn has had this season.
The refueling ban for 2010 means the cars will have to be redesigned again, and any team that does the best design job has the best chance to win the championship. And history always repeats itself, it's even possible one of the four new teams will, like Brawn GP did this year, write history again.
Who are his opponents in 2010?
Jenson Button who joined the McLaren team will be driving an unknown car, he will have to focus on getting used to the McLaren machine, only then he will be able to defend his title. Lewis Hamilton has plenty of experience with the car, and showed in 2009 he had regained his winning form which delivered him the title in 2008. McLaren became stronger at the end of the 2009 season, if they can keep up that pace in 2010, McLaren with world champions Button and Hamilton will be a very strong opponent for Schumacher and the Mercedes GP team.
Fernando Alonso, who will be driving the scarlet red Ferrari, is also a man who can do miracles with any Formula One car, like Schumacher he is also one of those extraordinary talented Formula One drivers. He will also have to get used to the Ferrari, and although we have seen in the past that the Ferrari is a very difficult car to master, I'm pretty sure Alonso will have no problems getting used to the Ferrari. Felipe Massa will be back after his accident in Hungary, but has to prove he is still the same Felipe Massa as he was before his accident.
And let's not forget to mention the two other German drivers: Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Rosberg already stated he would not settle for a second place in the team, and it is possible Schumacher will not get the same driver status he had at Ferrari, it's possible he will simply have to prove what he's worth before he can claim any place within the Mercedes team. Vettel is another very talented driver, he lost the title this year mainly as a result of his own errors, and the Renault engine, which was not as reliable as expected. He will not make the same mistake twice and will without a doubt be fighting for the title in 2010.
What will Schumacher's return do for Formula One?
The 2009 season has been a very difficult season for Formula One, with Honda, BMW and Toyota leaving the sport, Renault selling out to Genii Capital Investment, the spy- and lie-gates, the war between FIA and FOTA, and on top of that, sponsors who left Formula One because of the economic recession, and perhaps as a result of the exodus, the dwindling number of spectators worldwide. It is nothing short of a miracle that Mercedes board of directors decided to invest in Formula One instead of leaving.
The first rumors about Schumacher's 2010 return were labeled as wishful thinking, but it gradually became apparent that Schumacher was still very keen to return to Formula One, this time to race for the Mercedes Grand Prix team. But it created a huge media hype, and an avalanche of speculations, numerous comments from the 'experts' and vigorous discussions on internet forums. Formula One is now back in the spotlight.
Bernie Ecclestone, who initially thought it was impossible that Schumacher would return, said it would be a dream to have Schumacher back in Formula One, thus provoking comments he was probably more thrilled by the prospect of increasing revenues, than about seeing Schumacher back in a race car. But joking apart, there is no doubt the Silver Arrows outfit with star drivers Schumacher and Rosberg will certainly generate a lot of media attention, not just for the team, but for the sport itself as well.
The Mercedes GP team has already caught the attention of many sponsors, Malaysian oil company Petronas has decided to stay in Formula One and closed a long term deal with the team valued at 30 million Euro per season. Signing Schumacher will without a doubt attract more sponsors, and it is more than likely that the return of the seven-times champion will attract more interest in Formula One, and especially the German race fans will be looking forward to the 2010 season, and will without a doubt cheer on 'their' driver, who is now driving for 'their' Mercedes team.