Schumacher felt 'back alive' in quest to fill in for Massa After a fortnight of excitement during which his communications have reached the world through his agent, his publicist/personal assistant/biographer, and his Web site, Michael...
Schumacher felt 'back alive' in quest to fill in for Massa
After a fortnight of excitement during which his communications have reached the world through his agent, his publicist/personal assistant/biographer, and his Web site, Michael Schumacher spoke to reporters Wednesday about the odd episode in which he was named by Ferrari to stand in for injured Formula One driver Felipe Massa.
It turned out that he cannot do the job. A motorcycle racing accident in February left him with neck and head injuries from which he has not recovered sufficiently to withstand the rigors of an F1 car.
"I'm just in one of my toughest moments I have faced in my career," the seven-time world driving titlist told a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, one day after ending his bid to replace Massa. "Although I'm a retired race driver, still, for a moment I felt, like, back alive. And now I have to cancel all this."
The announcement that Schumacher would fill in for Massa, hit by debris from another car during qualifying for the Grand Prix of Hungary, stunned the world. Schumacher, 40, retired from Formula One after the 2006 season. He won five driving titles with Ferrari and remained under contract to the Scuderia as consultant and occasional test driver. But the prospect of a racing return generated the biggest buzz in a season that, through ontrack competition and offtrack squabbling, has provided nonstop sensation. Massa is not expected to return for any of the season's remaining seven races.
Rumors of Schumacher's return were at first denied by his agent, Willi Weber, then cast as under consideration by his publicist assistant, Sabine Kehm, before Ferrari confirmed the German would stand in for Massa, a former teammate for whom Schumacher has served as mentor of sorts.
"Getting into the car and driving the car was pretty natural," Schumacher said. "I didn't find any problems in adapting to the sport, but I found the pain around the neck was pretty tough, especially over bumps."
Reports indicated Schumacher suffered multiple fractures to his neck and skull in the motorcycle accident. Former Ferrari teammate Eddie Irvine told Sky Sports that only a few weeks ago Schumacher needed to turn his shoulders in order to move his head. Neck strength and stability are vital to F1 racers, who are subjected to up to five times the force of gravity during braking and cornering.
"No simulation can produce the demands an F1 car puts on the body, so we needed to test to find out," Schumacher said. "We did everything in the most prepared way possible, and it didn't work out."
Schumacher's attempts to prepare were thwarted by a new rule that bans in-season testing. Although teams could have approved his testing Ferrari's current model, the F60, they needed to do so unanimously, and Williams F1 then Red Bull and Toro Rosso objected. Williams cited a concern over future application of rules should a precedent be set. The Red Bull teams cited the lack of exception for Jaime Alguersuari, 19, who made his Formula One debut in a Toro Rosso at Hungary without benefit of driving an F1 car through a corner. Instead of driving a current car, Schumacher paid the expense of driving a 2007 car with slicks at a test on Ferrari's Mugello, Italy, test track.
"We have prepared very seriously, done as much as we could from our side, but we always said that I would do the job on condition I was ready for it, and, sadly, I couldn't fulfill this," a wistful-looking Schumacher said.
The German would not address a possible F1 drive at a later date, although his doctor, Johannes Pell, said "further healing and training and therapy" could allow Schumacher to resume his distinctive form of motoring.
"I've just made a very tough decision and that's all I'm thinking about right now," Schumacher said. "I don't feel like thinking too much about the future."
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had said during the past fortnight that he had been considering a third car for Schumacher before the accident befell Massa.
Schumacher said his situation is not unusual for someone who craves danger as he does.
"We all know motorbikes have an element of danger, but that is part of my nature, that is what I am," Schumacher said. "I jump out of planes. I ride motorbikes. I drive Formula One cars. Now I am disappointed I did it because it has stopped me from doing what I wanted to do."
Schumacher began his remarks by thanking Ferrari personnel and his fans.
"I like to say thank you to all the guys in Ferrari, all the engineers, mechanics, everybody, who has really supported me massively in these couple of weeks," Schumacher said "I didn't really expect how many emotions and how much positive energy we were able to release because of this. And on top, all the fans who have supported me hugely in these weeks and days. That was a big surprise and something very great. Thank you."
A return to racing stood to thrill not only his fans but those whose commercial interests have been hard-pressed in a global recession. Formula One's commercial rights governor Bernie Ecclestone expressed his hope the former champion could meet the physical demands then chimed in with others who sounded assured that Schumacher would compete.
In Spain, site of the next race, Schumacher was looked to, to save ticket sales for the Grand Prix of Europe at Valencia. Ticket sales have been under threat since the suspension of Renault for that race. Race stewards at the Grand Prix of Hungary judged the team to have breached safety rules because a wheel came off the car of Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso. The decision is under appeal and Renault's haulers have arrived in Spain, but at the moment, Schumacher's decision Tuesday returned race organizers to a pins-and-needles state added to by Ferrari's decision to replace Schumacher with Italian reserve driver Luca Badoer instead of Spanish reserve driver Marc Gene.
Schumacher defended Ferrari's decision and called Badoer the best prepared for the job.
"First of all, Luca is really a very good friend of myself," Schumacher said. "He has prepared himself quite strongly in order to be ready for all the years. Because this was his main job, to be ready for testing but as well in case something would happen. So he's not somebody who has been sitting quietly around.
"From his knowledge of knowing the team, he is absolutely the best one."