The return of Michael Schumacher to the cockpit for a recent test session has apparently sent shock-waves through the Formula One media. I must admit, I don’t think the shock-waves have reached me, but it has certainly caused a few members of the paddock to suggest the German might want to make a comeback. Mika Hakkinen and Alan Jones have each said that the seven-times world champion might be missing the competitive racing aspect of Formula One, and knowing he can still set decent lap times could be enough to lure him out of retirement.
He used to take a couple of months off at the end of each season, so another few months won’t make a big difference. Two or three years might have done. It’s a win-win situation: Ferrari gains from his expertise and he enjoys it. And you can never rule out a comeback… Alan Jones.
Is he missing racing? The answer is probably yes. Doing competitive lap times probably satisfies his feeling and he’s happy he is still competitive. Mika Hakkinen.
Many drivers have taken time out of Formula One, only to return a year or two later and claim another crown. It must be very satisfying to know that even after a break, you can still mix it with the new faces and defeat them on the tarmac. Niki Lauda famously took time out in 1980 and ’81, and when he returned in ’83 in a McLaren, he proved he could still win races. In 1984, the Austrian took his third and final championship title.
Both Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost took sabbaticals as well, Mansell in 1993 and Prost in 1992. Mansell left the sport after winning his only title in a Williams. He went to America and raced in the CART IndyCar series, taking the title and becoming the only driver to hold both crowns simultaneously. However, after the tragic events at San Marino in 1994, Williams convinced the Briton to return to fill the gap left by Ayrton Senna. Mansell famously won the final meeting of the year, despite initially struggling to keep up with his younger rivals. In 1995 and feeling confident, Mansell decided to join McLaren, but not being able to fit in the car, he couldn’t race until the third round. After just two events, Mansell retired again, complaining of the McLaren’s woeful handling characteristics.
Alain Prost’s comeback from a year out proved to be much more successful than his British rival’s. Prost took 1992 off, freeing up Mansell to take the title for himself. However, Williams convinced Prost to return in 1993 and the French driver took the championship after a dominating campaign of seven wins, three seconds and two thirds. However, Senna regularly challenged Prost in an inferior car and The Professor knew his time was up. Leaving Formula One contributed to the return of Mansell, the two careers intertwined not too dissimilarly as Prosts and Sennas.
So clearly, a return to the cockpit could prove successful for Michael Schumacher. He looks as though he hasn’t lost any of his spirit and I imagine testing the F2007 will have brought a satisfying smile to his face. Particularly the ability for Michael to still set quality times. But would a Schumacher return be good for the sport? Bernie Ecclestone seems to think so, stating various times this year that he would like to see Schumacher on the grid again. Perhaps Bernie is just thinking of audience numbers, but it would undoubtedly boost Formula One’s appeal across the world. However, should Schumacher return, the already crowded arena will be made worse. Currently we have just eleven teams lining up for Australia in 2008, but we have way more than 22 drivers vying for seats. And if Ferrari were allow their golden child back into the monocoque, which one gets the boot?
From the rest of the field’s perspective, I imagine they would like to see Schumacher return. Either they’ll get to trounce all over the weary old dog, or enjoy another chance to do battle with the old master. Either way, they would be in a win-win situation. Unless of course, Schumacher completely dominates the season again, 2002-stylee.
Personally, I’m not so sure I would like to see Schumacher back in racing trim again. The German driver perhaps left at the wrong time, but now he has gone, Formula One has moved on. It is like the sport has progressed into a new era, and waiting in the wings are new race winners and title contenders. I would like to see BMW start to win races, Honda and Renault to make a return to the front, Lewis Hamilton’s team mate to be given a chance to win (assuming he will be a non-winner to start with) and I would like to see Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen battle each other over race wins on a more regular basis. I feel, perhaps unwarranted, that if Schumacher returned, we may not see this because of the dominance he could bring to Ferrari again.
But I’m not necessarily asking myself the question. I’m going to ask you. Would you want to see Michael Schumacher return to competitive Formula One racing? Let me know in the comments below.