But nobody was prepared for the sensational announcement that Michael Schumacher is returning to drive for Ferrari. David Croft reflects on an incredible few days and asks what all this means for F1.
Wednesday 30th July, remember the date. It should have been no more than a run of the mill mid-week day, but it turned into a strange and crazy 24 hours. From late on Tuesday night when the chatter started about BMW’s withdrawal from Formula 1 to the moment when the greatest driver of the modern era announced he was coming back to help out his old team, it was jaw dropping stuff.
The BMW story is not good news. Sure, manufacturers come and go from the sport, always have, always will. But here was a manufacturer that before this season had been on an upward curve and had done very well to claim a poll and a win in only their third year as a constructor.
Sadly the bad results from 2009, coupled with a downturn in car sales across the globe, forced a panic decision from the BMW board in Munich. Someone may come in and save the team as happened with Brawn GP when Honda pulled out but Dr Mario Theissen, albeit a thoroughly nice bloke, is no Ross Brawn and my hunch is that the factory will close and that the slot on the grid will go elsewhere. Epsilon Euskadi have already stated their interested and David Richards Prodrive outfit may join them.
But from the bad news to the good stuff. First, and most importantly, Felipe Massa is out of intensive care. Brilliant. There’s a long way to go until he makes a full recovery, but the indications are that he will and should be back racing in the future.
Which means that Ferrari, after putting their stricken driver first and making sure that he got the best possible medical care, can turn their attention to who stands in for Felipe until he returns. Which brings us to the tea spluttering, eyebrow raising, smile widening, hand rubbing announcement that Michael Schumacher is on his way back.
Just hours after his manager said he was 200% sure Michael wouldn’t race again – memo to Willi Webber, have a chat with your driver before you say things like that and check those percentages again – Michael was embarking on his latest fitness regime and looking ahead to the European Grand Prix.
As one fan I spoke to put it: “We always wondered who was the best, Ali or Marciano? Now with Schumacher and Hamilton we won’t have to wonder because they’ll be racing each other, great!”
And not just Lewis and Michael. Throw into the mix Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Jenson Button. Plus Kimi Raikkonen, who never seems too chuffed when Michael comes to the track and is hardly likely to be opening the sparkling vodka in celebration, and Fernando Alonso too should the FIA appeal process reinstate him for the race. All in all this has transformed the European Grand Prix from a potential snooze fest into a spicy little encounter.
Schumacher made it clear that his return has nothing to do with wanting to resume his F1 career and everything to do with his loyalty to both Felipe and Ferrari. But he also spoke of how much he was looking forward to the challenge. I bet he is. He comes back to the team just as their F60 car is starting to show signs of competitiveness having recorded podium finishes in the last two races and he joins the battle on tracks where he might just find that the KERS boost – Kinetic Energy Recovery System, 80bhp more power for 6.6 seconds per lap – makes a real difference.
But can he be competitive in the way that he once was? Surely that’s asking just a bit too much of a 40-year-old man who decided in 2006 that his time was up and it was time to quit? Anyone else and I’d say yes. But this is Schumacher the seven time world champion, the man who comes alive behind the wheel of that gleaming red machine, the man who has never ducked a challenge in the past and will prepare as fully as he can to make sure he’s well up for this challenge ahead.
Questions should be asked of course as to how the sport has got itself into a situation where Ferrari had no serious option other than to bring Michael out of retirement. Looking at the list of alternatives there was more chance of Fernando Alonso racing for Ferrari in Valencia than the teams official test drivers.
Gene and Badoer are test drivers only in name, as are many others due to the ban on testing in season. Hence Torro Rosso take a risk on a young Spaniard who hadn’t turned a wheel in anger before his first race weekend and Ferrari bring back a man who has been out of the sport for three years.
But those questions are for another day. For now, as an F1 fan and commentator, I can only say that the news that Felipe is going to be okay and that Michael is going to stand in for him, were the perfect antidote to the bad news about BMW.
I remember Michael’s last race and that epic charge through the field in Brazil following an early puncture. Schumacher at his best, racing like a dervish and leaving nothing behind. Let’s hope his return provides something similar, he’s got nothing to lose and the sport might just have plenty to gain by his cameo reappearance.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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BIOGRAPHY: Eric Bailly