Michael Schumacher's comeback trail begins

Michael Schumacher's comeback trail begins

Michael Schumacher began preparing Friday to replace Felipe Massa in Ferrari's Formula One team with a test drive. Last year's world championship runner-up, Massa suffered a skull fracture during an accident in qualifying Saturday for the Grand...

Michael Schumacher began preparing Friday to replace Felipe Massa in Ferrari's Formula One team with a test drive. Last year's world championship runner-up, Massa suffered a skull fracture during an accident in qualifying Saturday for the Grand Prix of Hungary.

Michael Schumacher.
Photo by Hazrin Yeob Men Shah.

Schumacher, who drove for Ferrari between 1996 and 2006, and remains with the team in an advisory role, is scheduled to fill in until Massa is well enough to resume racing.

Winner of five of his seven world titles with Ferrari, Schumacher drove a 2007 Ferrari at the team's test track in Mugello, Italy. The car was fitted with slick tires, which returned to the sport this season after a decade's absence. However, the tires fitted for the test were GP2-spec rather than those used in F1 this season.

"The cars are not current but I simply like to drive as much as possible," Schumacher said.

Current rules do not allow in-season testing other than straight-line running, but Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) have granted leave for the German to test for one day. He still needs dispensation from the FIA as well as the two non-FOTA teams, Williams and Force India.

Ferrari needs Schumacher, 40, to pass fit. Of particular interest is how his neck will hold up to racing again. Formula One cars put extraordinary strain on neck muscles -- nearly five times the force of gravity in some corners -- and Schumacher injured his neck earlier this year in a motorcycle accident.

Schumacher has three weeks to prepare thanks to a break in the calendar. All teams agreed to close their factories for two weeks during the break in a cost-cutting move. If the FIA do not allow him to drive a current model, the F60, his prerace time in the car will be two 90-minute and one hour-long practice session ahead of the Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia, Spain, the next race. Also new to the sport since Schumacher's 2006 retirement is night racing. That event rakes place Sept. 27 in Singapore.

In addition to slicks, Schumacher needs to come up to speed on a kinetic energy recovery system, a power boost that requires driver activation, and a front wing adjustable by the driver.

Michael Schumacher, Scuderia Ferrari, tests the F2007 in preparation for his comeback.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.

A return by Schumacher, who improved four-time world champion Alain Prost's record for most victories, 51, by 40, has caused a sensation. Schumacher retired from racing as the best-known athlete in the world. His decision comes during a summer in which Tom Watson, 59, narrowly missed winning the oldest golf championship, The Open Championship in Great Britain, and former winner Lance Armstrong, 37, returned to place third in the Tour de France bicycle race.

Former three-time world driving champion Niki Lauda, who made a comeback that included winning an additional world title, hailed the German's decision.

World Champion Lewis Hamilton proclaimed an opportunity to race against Schumacher "an honor and a privilege." Former F1 driver and current BBC television announcer David Coulthard called Schumacher an obvious choice. Current driving points leader Jenson Button of Brawn GP told BBC radio that Schumacher's stated reason of returning to help Massa and Ferrari is less credible than the former world champ seeking the thrill Formula One provides. Other observers called Schumacher's decision "brave" because he stands to dent his reputation if he doesn't perform up to the standards he set as he rewrote nearly all of F1's statistics.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Niki Lauda
Teams Ferrari , Force India , Williams , Brawn GP