Having started his career in 1990 with Mercedes Benz, Michael Schumacher is now officially making his return from whence he came. The 7-time world champion has been announced as Nico Rosbergâ€™s teammate at Mercedes GP Petronas for the 2010 season.
Once thought to be forever linked to Ferrari, having delivered five world titles to the Italian team, the controversial and demonstrably talented German driver has surgically removed himself from the Italian teams branding and steeped himself back into the German culture that gave birth to his assault on the Formula 1 series.
It is not lost on his detractors that a motorcycling injury sidelined his potential return as a replacement driver for the injured Felipe Massa in 2009 at Ferrari. Many have denounced his image, ability and potential for the coming season but others less prone to emotional rhetoric have remained silent as they know all too well the brewing storm that could happen if time, space, resources and gray matter align. In short, if the Brawn/Schumacher machine can be restarted from its dormant stateâ€”opposing teams could be eviscerated.
Some will suggest that lightning never strikes twice and that age will pay a factor in the championâ€™s return. They will argue that the Brawn-lead Mercedes team is bereft of some of the essential key players that made the Brawn/Schumacher/Ferrari dynasty so surreal. Theyâ€™ll suggest that Mercedes GP Petronas will not have the â€œright stuffâ€ to deliver a package competitive enough for an age-diminished driver facing fierce, younger competition. They may argue that his past sins will continue to deliver bad mojo for his return as a penitence for his Hill, Villeneuve, Monaco debacles.
The list of reasons why the Return of the King is not a good idea is long. Many counterpoints are centered on the ill effects of his media attention, the damage his image will suffer if he fails, the impact of his presence in F1 as a cheap attempt to trump up a financially waning series and the betrayal of Ferrari. Thatâ€™s just a few of the topics I have seen discussed here at F1B and elsewhere.
Here is why the return of Schumacher is good for F1, teams, the FIA, fans, detractors, pundits, owners, FOM and television:
He is a singular person who defies adversity in times of strife and who galvanizes the sport of F1 like no one has since the days of Senna, Lauda, Stewart and Clark. He never quitsâ€¦EVER. His fighting spirit to the end of even the most doomed race is his testament to the drive that turns failure into success. His presence in F1 will sell tickets, merchandise, TV adverts, sponsors products, tires, cars and F1 itself. His appointment at Mercedes will give that team its best chance to win titles not just races.
His pairing with Nico Rosberg delivers a mentorship for the young German to learn from arguably the most successful F1 driver of all time. His talent and pace are ranked among the very best the sport has ever seen and while his â€œquestionableâ€ moments have been built-up to epic lifetime-ban proportions, he is of an era where racing was brutal, physical and on the limit. He causes controversy; he delivers astounding performances and creates excitement, good or bad, wherever he goes.
To put it bluntly he is, as Bernie Ecclestone said himself, one of the greatest characters F1 has ever created. Is he bigger than F1? No, of course not. There is too much history and too many phenomenally talented champions to have walked the halls of F1 but what he does represent is the greatest character and arguably the greatest driver of this era. That, if for any other reason, is a key essential to what F1 still needs.
The arrival of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and other young champions hasnâ€™t been enough to propel F1 through a financial crisis. With all respect to each of them, they have not taken the mantle that Schumacher left and until one of them can successful rise to be larger than Schumacher himselfâ€”perhaps F1 still needs its elder statesman to continue to carry the torch until the youngsters gain more traction, hearts and minds of the fans sans financial crisis. Weâ€™re still trying to argue that the current world champion actually deserves it as his title-claiming performances were met with some serious doubt for crying out loud! That was never a question for the Schumacher era at Ferrari.
“But people like close racing not domination of the sport like Ferarri/Schumacher did, Todd!” Really? Then why the lack of interest in â€œthe showâ€? Oh, thatâ€™s rightâ€¦no passing. Pleeeaaassse! Pinch yourself; youâ€™re having a bad dream.
Alonsoâ€™s victory over Schumacher in 2006 may be a foregone conclusion to many but for this F1 fan, it was not a clear-cut case of pure domination by the young successor. Not like Schumacher was doing to Senna prior to the Brazilians untimely death. I, and many like me, donâ€™t believe Alonso proved to the world that he was faster, better and capable to carry the torch from Schumacher. His latter performances at Renault have scuppered his chance to prove that 2006 was a brutal stamp on F1 as the current king to be dethroned.
Schumacher, in many peopleâ€™s minds, was forced into retirement by Ferrariâ€™s acquisition of Kimi Raikkonen in 2006. The media was told that it was to make room for Felipe Massa but I didnâ€™t buy that at the time and I doubt that many did. Schumacher has unfinished business in F1 and regardless of his success at Mercedes he will have served to show us once again that F1 can be exciting and its shortcomings are minutiae when there is a galvanizing driver who forces the action to the track and not the court room or Chelsea loft.
Schumacher will place all eyes on the track where it belongs and keep the young drivers on their toes. The teams will operate in the penumbra of potential domination by a system that revolutionized F1â€”for good or bad depending on how you feel about Ferrariâ€™s corporate death grasp on the sportâ€”and that always creates controversy but that controversy will be brought to the track in 2010 and the â€œRed Ruleâ€ may just become the â€œSilver Ruleâ€ and who doesnâ€™t love that conspiracy theory being bandied about for another three years?
If Schumacher was as bad and talentless as many of his detractors say he is, if he was as corrupt and underhanded as they claim, he wouldnâ€™t need to come back to this sport. The puritan genius that is Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel and Rosberg would have taken the sport further but as they have not done so, perhaps the old man can spin the system up once again to create a level of disdain to see him off with yet another recordâ€”the most hated F1 driver in history? The most hated driver who may very well just save F1 from itself as well as further financial decline.
Give it a rest folks, the man has every chance to be mediocre in 2010 and have little effect on the presumed Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel battle but anyone who has watched the German champion would do well not to underestimate what a 40-year-old can do when given the right car and proper motivationâ€”this 40-year-old is no ordinary bloke mind you. He has seven titles to prove it and if you choose to discount two of them, thatâ€™s still more titles than any driver on the grid today. Heâ€™s proved he can win in inferior cars and that is where I believe he will excel. To his caution, Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton have had time to prove they too can win in an inferior car so the 2010 season should be damned exciting and for all the Schumacher detractorsâ€¦shut it! The king is backâ€”just pray he doesnâ€™t punt your driver Adelaide-style!