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Schumacher: The comeback - The sequel? // A positive spin on the return of the seven times world champion

Published by Journeyer

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For the second time this year, rumors are spreading that Michael Schumacher is coming back to race in Formula One. But this time, he wouldn't be racing for Ferrari. Instead, he'd be racing for Mercedes, the company that kickstarted his top-level motor racing career.

And just like last time, the prospect of a Schumacher comeback has fans salivating in anticipation. While some media channels have reported that this will probably happen (therefore hyping it up even more), the truly major sources (Joe Saward, James Allen, and AUTOSPORT) have been either quiet or dismissive of the rumors.

And yet, the fans continue to eat it up. Some ask why no denials have been forthcoming, when in fact, Ross Brawn himself had already stated that Michael wasn't interested in a full-time comeback (not at the time of the interview, anyway). There have been all sorts of statements explaining why Michael is more likely than not to come back - no smoke without fire, no denials from Norbert Haug or Nick Fry, Michael hasn't officially signed his Ferrari contract yet - just to name a few.

No-one on the current grid seems to have succeeded Schumacher in capturing the casual fans' imagination

Before I go to my personal opinion on how this will end up, let me share with you this observation: it seems to me that Formula One does not yet have its next superstar. Yes, we have Lewis Hamilton on the grid. Yes, Fernando Alonso is about to drive a Ferrari next season. Yet no-one on the current grid seems to have succeeded Schumacher in capturing the casual fans' imagination and getting them hooked on the sport (again). It may be good for the sport that the grid as it was in the 3 post-Schumacher years was closer than ever - and thus the racing was good (for the most part, anyway). But many casual fans didn't follow as closely because their number one driver - the driver who may have created the two most boring seasons ever in 2002 and 2004 - wasn't driving anymore.

All this leads me to think that these people who are tweeting about a Schumacher comeback may be doing so out of hope rather than expectation. Personally, I don't think it will happen due to a number of reasons.

First, there is his neck. This was the biggest reason why his summer fling with Ferrari didn't push through. Before any comeback happens this time, Schumacher's doctors will have to check his neck and give him the fitness seal of approval. But even if his neck does fully heal, will it ever be as strong as it was during his peak? Also, given that we're now in the middle of December, will Michael have enough time to get back to the levels of full racing fitness he was at in 2006?

Second, there is his long-term motivation. I say long-term because while he may want to drive again, he doesn't necessarily want to do it for an entire season. Being interviewed at the Race of Champions in Beijing just last month, one of the reasons he was willing to substitute for the injured Felipe Massa was that it was a "part-time" thing. A Mercedes race seat for an entire season at least would definitely be a full-time deal. Even James Allen, who wrote the Schumi biography "The Edge of Greatness", has mentioned in his blog that he doesn't feel Michael really wants to go back to that level of work. And this is Michael Schumacher we're talking about - if he can't give 110% commitment to it, it's not worth doing.

Third, there is Ferrari - specifically, Luca di Montezemolo himself. LDM would probably be less than keen on letting Michael go off - to a competitor, no less. Allen has also mentioned in his blog that Ferrari would want Michael to be promoting their roadcars, rather than Mercedes roadcars (and that new SLS Gullwing set to go on sale). I would add to this that whoever Schumacher races for last will probably end up having his services (and endorsement) for the rest of his life - and if Ferrari lose him, that would be a huge blow to them. If it is true that there is currently no signed contract between Schumacher and Ferrari, there is probably nothing LDM can really do to stop Michael from leaving. However, Schumacher is also separately under contract to Ferrari fuel partner Shell. With Mercedes running on Mobil 1 products, Schumi would have to get out of his Shell contract as well for him to make the move.

Fourth, there is the competition. Many fans wonder how Schumacher would fare if he raced head-to-head against Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel. But even if Michael comes back, how fair a comparison would it be? Even if Michael fares well in his comeback, it would be hard for us to say that he's just peaking right now. In comparison, Hamilton, Vettel, and Alonso (who beat Schumacher in 2006) will all have gotten better in the last three years. As Nick pointed out in the comments, if Schumacher couldn't beat Alonso to the title in 2006, what chance does he have now?

Michael may have been retired a while, but I wouldn't put him in the same pay bracket as Jenson

Is the money on offer a factor? Perhaps, perhaps not. It depends on how badly Schumacher wants to race again. That said, the speculation is that Michael will get the same base salary offer that Jenson Button got. Michael may have been retired a while, but I wouldn't put him in the same pay bracket as Jenson, if only because of his marketing value (which is a lot, to say the least). One wonders if Michael would feel the same way.

For those reasons, I don't think Michael Schumacher will race for Mercedes GP in 2010, or in Formula One anytime in the future, for that matter. But the other question is, do I want to see him come back and race again?

As a Schumacher fan, I would have to say... no. It's probably not the response you'd expect from a typical Schumi fan, but let me explain why. For me, he has nothing else to prove. Why go back and take the risk of being beaten week in and week out by a Nico Rosberg, never mind a Lewis Hamilton? Also, Michael went out on a high - remember that awesome recovery drive in Brazil, pulling off a gutsy pass on Kimi Räikkönen in the process? Overtaking the guy who was about to replace him - in that fashion - was memorable on many levels, and it was the perfect way to sign off on what had been a brilliant F1 career.

Michael's already achieved the whole lot, so any Schumacher comeback would only have one aim: to win the Championship for an 8th time. Can he pull it off? As much as I'd want him to, my heart of hearts tells me that he is still human, and that magic touch with the steering wheel will fade with age. Does Michael believe otherwise? Only Michael would know the answer to that question. Would I support Schumacher if he raced again? Absolutely. But would it be the correct decision for Michael to race again? On balance, I would say no.

So if I don't think he'll race for Mercedes, what's next for Michael Schumacher? There's plenty of possibilities. He could stay with Ferrari as their ambassador. He could still move to Mercedes in a consultant role and become Ross' confidant and advisor, as well as their ambassador. But I think his next office will not be in Maranello or in Brackley - it will be in Paris, either as a Formula One Ambassador, or more probably, as the new Formula One Commissioner. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Jean Todt has an open offer to Michael to work with him in the FIA - and I think he will take it.

Fearless forecast? Absolutely. Correct forecast? That remains to be seen.

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