Ferrari confirmed today that seven-time world driving champion Michael Schumacher will come out of retirement to complete the Formula One season of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian suffered head injuries in a high-speed crash during qualifying for Sunday's Grand Prix of Hungary.
Massa leaves the intensive care unit of a Budapest, Hungary, hospital even as news arrives that his friend and one-time Ferrari mentor will stand in for him. Massa, who suffered a skull fracture when he was hit by a spring that fell off the back of compatriot Rubens Barrichello's car, is thought to be out for the remainder of the 17-race season. Seven races remain.
"Ferrari intends to entrust Michael Schumacher with Felipe Massa's car for as long as the Brazilian driver is not able to race," the Italian team said in a statement.
"Michael Schumacher has shown his willingness, and in the next few days he will undergo a specific program of preparation at the end of which it will be possible to confirm his participation in the championship starting with the European Grand Prix on Aug. 23."
Schumacher drove for Ferrari from 1996 through 2006. He remains an adviser to and sometimes driver for the team. He suffered a serious injury during the 1999 British Grand Prix, at midseason, when he broke his right leg. He missed six races as Mika Salo replaced him and he returned in Malaysia to help his teammate, Eddie Irvine, attempt to win the world driving championship. The Ulsterman narrowly lost the title to Mika Hakkinen of McLaren Mercedes.
In a statement on his website, the former champion characterized the decision as "helping out." His decision came after consultation with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and team principal Stefano Domenicali.
"I was meeting this afternoon with Stefano Domenicali and Luca di Montezemolo, and together we decided that I will prepare myself to take the place of Felipe," Schumacher's statement said. "Though it is true that the chapter Formula One has been closed for me since long and completely, it is also true that for loyalty reasons to the team I cannot ignore that unfortunate situation. But as the competitor I am, I also very much look forward to facing this challenge."
Schumacher returns to a Formula One now running on slicks instead of grooved tires, with kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), and at a course on which he has not driven, the harborside circuit at Valencia, Spain. His return is a godsend for Valencia race promoters facing the prospect of a race without Spanish double world champion Fernando Alonso, whose Renault team at the moment has been ruled out of that race for his car losing a wheel during last Sunday's Grand Prix of Hungary. The race stewards' decision is under appeal, which should be heard by the sanctioning body International Automobile Federation's appeals court before the next race weekend.
Fans who thought they never would see the day now have a chance to watch Schumacher against the sport's newest bright lights, World Champion Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, a German dubbed "Baby Schumi." Schumacher retired before they came on the scene.
The only German to win a world driving title, Schumacher also returns in time for a two-week factory shutdown to be observed by all teams as a cost-cutting measure and during a season in which car testing is banned. Without the ability to drive the current car, the F60, on either of Ferrari's private test tracks, Schumacher will be left to brush up using simulators.
The specific program of preparation is a fitness test. Schumacher, 40, left F1 after the 2006 season and most recently has raced motorcycles. He injured his neck in a wreck in February. He called off a race in April because he said he wasn't fit enough. He raced karts last month at a competition in him hometown, Kerpen. He was known throughout his car racing career for his fitness level.
Schumacher's decision follows by hours a statement from his agent, Willi Weber, who spoke to his most famous client Monday, that Schumacher would not take the drive, a fact of which Weber assured he was "200 percent" certain. By Tuesday, Schumacher's personal assistant Sabine Kehm was putting it round that Schumacher would be interested.
The winner of 91 races is the most successful driver in the history of Formula One. Five of Schumacher's seven world titles were won with Ferrari as the German brought the Italian team, the only team to have contested every year of the series begun in 1950, back from a 21-year championship drought.
With Jean Todt, currently running for the presidency of sanctioning body the International Automobile Federation (FIA), and Ross Brawn, currently leading the F1 drivers' and constructors' championships with a team bearing his name, Ferrari won six consecutive constructors titles and five driving titles between 1999 and 2004. Ferrari's domination was blamed for a falloff in television viewership as people tuned out to Schmacher's constant winning.
Schumacher's most notable talents were for turning fast laps exactly as Brawn would call for them from pit lane to ensure a victorious strategy. Out of the car, Schumacher galvanized the workforce at the team's Maranello, Italy, headquarters, inspiring in them the same passion he held for winning. His on-track behavior was not always so noble. Among a number of antics, he was disqualified from the 1997 world drivers' race for colliding with eventual champion Jacques Villeneuve in Spain. He was stripped of pole position and made to start from the back of the grid for hampering Alonso's pole lap at Monaco in 2006.
Schumacher, who won world driving titles at Benetton in 1994 and 1995, retired after the 2006 season, when Alonso won the second of back-to-back driving championships for Renault.
Schumacher left the sport holding records for total victories, victories in a season, pole positions, points scored during one season, consecutive championships, consecutive race victories, number of podiums, fast laps and laps led.
Schumacher retired when he and golfer Tiger Woods topped the list of sports earners. Both earned around $80 million a year, give or take a few thousand, far ahead of the next placer. Schumacher took about half that total from his Ferrari salary.
In 2008, he was made chairman of the FIA's Motor Sport Safety Development Fund. He campaigns as part of the FIA Foundations Make Roads Safe scheme and he is featured in a campaign against drunk driving sponsored by rum maker Bacardi.
Away from racing, Schumacher, the first racing driver to approach a billion dollars in worth, has demonstrated considerable compassion. His charitable contributions number in the tens of millions of dollars. He participated in fund-raising for victims of terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he donated $1 million to flood relief when the Danube River overflowed in 2002. He gave $10 million to victims of the tsunami that hit south Asia at the end of 2004. An accounting during the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State revealed Schumacher donated between $5 million and $10 million to the William J. Clinton Foundation. Schumacher works as a UNESCO ambassador and donates to projects including building of schools in Africa.