The latest reports being churned out of the Formula 1 rumor mill have the second slot at Mercedes GP, the one formerly reserved for Jenson Button, now being filled by none other than Michael Schumacher, in 2010.
While no official sources have been attributed, a report in The Telegraph today said, “Michael Schumacher has been sounded out about a sensational return to Formula One next season.” The report went on to say that Schumacher would be “offered the same deal turned down by Button,” and that “talks are understood to be at an early stage.”
It’s difficult to judge whether there’s any truth to this. It was only yesterday that reports surfaced in the media that Kimi Raikkonen had the inside track on getting the second seat at Mercedes, but now Raikkonen himself has scuttled that rumor. The Finn says he fully intends to take a sabbatical next year, perhaps devoting his energies to rally driving.
No sooner is Raikkonen out of the picture than Schumi has taken his place. Admittedly, the rumor has a seductive appeal. Certain drivers cast a long shadow in Formula 1, regardless of their age. If Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna had lived, certainly they would have been pressured to make comebacks. And if Sterling Moss hadn’t had his horrible crash, there’s no telling how long he would have stayed active. Certain drivers have magic aura about them, that generates electricity in the grandstands. Schumacher is one of those drivers.
However, on a practical level, there a few points that argue against his return, at least in a Mercedes. First of all, he just signed a three year deal with Ferrari. Granted, contracts in Formula 1 are extremely breakable, but even so, Schumacher has always professed an affiinity for the Ferrari “family,” and he seems quite happy to be involved in Ferrari’s road car development.
Secondly there’s the question of fitness. It’s certain that Schmacher wouldn’t race unless he were given a clean bill of health, but one wonders, considering that he had quite a nasty vertebra fracture, if that’s what he’ll get. Neck and head injuries are the most dangerous in motor racing, and it’s quite possible that Schmacher might be advised to hang up his helmet for good, rather than risk another injury to his neck.
Third, there’s his domestic situation. Rumors have surfaced that Schumacher’s wife, Corinna, is completely against Schumi’s making a comeback. So much so, that there’s even been talk of a separation.
Conversely, there are also at least two arguments that lend some credence to this story.
First, there is the fact that Ross Brawn will be at the helm of Mercedes next year. Brawn and Schumacher made a brilliant team, winning seven drivers’ championships, and eight manufacturers’ titles, at Benetton and Ferrari. Schmacher remains the yardstick by which Brawn rates all of his drivers. It’s easy to believe that Brawn would be tantalized by the prospect of working with the German ace again, and vice versa.
Secondly, while Mercedes have made it clear they’re anxious to put a German driver in the spotlight, they have long had a special interest in re-linking the Schumacher name to their marque. Schumacher was at one point part of the Mercedes driver development program, in their junior sports car division (along with Heinz-Herald Frentzen and Kurt Wendlinger, also ex-F1 pilots). McLaren made an aborted attempt at securing his services back in the late 1990’s, but it came to nothing.
Of course, all of this might be so much idle gossip. What’s clear is that when Schumacher went into a crash training program earlier this year, in anticipation of subbing for the injured Felipe Massa, the experience seemed to reignite his lust for competing at the highest level of motorsports. And even when his subsequent fitness report precluded his rejoining the F1 fray, Schumacher would no longer rule out a comeback at a later date. This was a definite change from his previous statements on the matter, in which he professed to be completely satisfied with his retirement.