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Michael Schumacher's Possible Return to Formula 1 Is Just What the Racing Circuit Nee

Michael Schumacher Would Give Formula 1 a Boost - WSJ.com

DECEMBER 22, 2009
A Sport That Could Use a Boost

Michael Schumacher's Possible Return to Formula 1 Is Just What the Racing Circuit Needs

By JONATHAN CLEGG

Brett Favre came out of retirement (again) this year to lead the resurgent Minnesota Vikings to a playoff berth. Tom Watson, who long ago seemed relegated to golf's senior tour, came within a tee's width of winning the British Open in July.

Now, Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1 racing, is poised to make a comeback at a relatively advanced age. And it's not a moment too soon for a sport beset by financial difficulties and recent public-relations embarrassments.

The seven-time world champion, who won 91 Grands Prix and broke almost every record in Formula One during a 16-year career, is expected to end his three-year retirement in an announcement that could come by year's end. The German, who turns 41 in early January, informed his former team, Ferrari, this month that there is a "very, very, very strong possibility" of his racing for German manufacturer Mercedes GP in 2010.

It's hard to overestimate the star power of Mr. Schumacher in much of the world or what his comeback would mean for Formula 1, the world's most elite auto-racing circuit. During his time in F1, Mr. Schumacher parlayed his breathtaking skills into an industry and, in 2005, became the first sportsman reported to earn $1 billion—four years before Tiger Woods was said to have reached the landmark.

Mr. Schumacher's business empire included caps—he sold hundreds of thousands at $30 a pop—action figures and sunglasses. He even had his own vacuum cleaner. He was the first driver to practically bring his personal gym to the track. As a keen sportsman, he incorporated soccer, skiing, one-on-one basketball and mountain biking into a fearsome training schedule. His famous endurance stretched to the technical side of the sport; his input during testing and development was credited with constructing a series of winning cars.

At the same time, he developed a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules—and often his own safety—in pursuit of victory. Indeed, he was disqualified from the 1997 drivers' championship after colliding with title rival Jacques Villeneuve.

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This year's Monaco Formula One Grand Prix in Monte Carlo.
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Some doubt that Mr. Schumacher can catch up with the sport and its technological advances of the past few years.

"Schumacher coming back to F1 is great news for the sport, but I don't know if it will be great news for Michael Schumacher," the current world champion, Jenson Button, told reporters last week. "He will be putting his reputation on the line."

Mr. Button isn't alone in harboring doubts about how a man who rose to fame in the 1990s will cope with today's cars, although Mr. Schumacher did try a comeback with Ferrari earlier this year.

But a lack of practice hasn't hindered him in the past.

When he made his F1 debut as a 22-year-old at the Belgian Grand Prix in the summer of 1991, Mr. Schumacher, who was filling in for regular racer Bertrand Gachot, had never driven a Formula 1 car outside of a brief testing session at Silverstone, the renowned U.K. venue, and had never driven around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit—regarded as one of the most brutally difficult on the calendar.

No matter. He qualified seventh, matching the team's best grid position of the season and outperforming his teammate, 11-year veteran Andrea de Cesaris. Of the six drivers quicker than him, four were world champions. A first-lap mechanical problem knocked him out of the race.

Yet 18 years on, doubts persist over how much Mr. Schumacher has left in the tank. The last Formula 1 race winner over the age of 40 was Nigel Mansell, who won the Australian Grand Prix in 1994 at the age of 41. Shortly after that victory, Mr. Mansell was released by Williams F1, one of the top teams, over concerns that he wasn't fit enough to be competitive.

Such an inglorious finale is unlikely to befall Mr. Schumacher. He has remained active, racing motorcycles and taking part in the yearly Race of Champions all-star event. His general level of fitness would almost surely be among the highest on the grid when the Formula One season begins at the Bahrain Grand Prix in March, although there will be doubts about how the sport-specific strength in the neck and shoulders will have been affected by his layoff.

Still, no one is questioning his nonphysical ability to have a successful return.

"He doesn't stop thinking," says Mark Blundell, who competed against Mr. Schumacher in a four-year Formula 1 career and now runs a management agency for F1 drivers. "He's one of those guys that at 4 a.m. is lying awake thinking about how to improve the car, and he'll get on the phone and tell somebody about it. That's why he made so much progress at Ferrari."

When Mr. Schumacher joined the team in 1996, the Italian manufacturer hadn't produced a world champion in 17 years. He revolutionized the team and, with Ross Brawn and Jean Todt, helped produce the most prosperous period in its history, winning five consecutive world titles from 2000 to 2004.

These days, the sport can use a shot in the arm. Honda, BMW and Toyota have all quit F1 this year over spiraling costs, while the team principal of Renault was banned indefinitely for ordering one of his own drivers to crash into a wall at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

More than a year ago, the president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, motor racing's governing body, faced calls to step down after the British tabloid press published a string of lurid revelations about his private life. (This year, he said he wouldn't seek another term.) Also this year, the sport's commercial rights holder was forced to apologize for praising Adolf Hitler as "a man who could get things done."

Sponsorship experts believe the box-office draw of Mr. Schumacher's return could reverse a slump in corporate-sponsorship sales.

"He's such a big star in the sport that he will attract waiverers if there's anybody who's hesitating about whether to sign up as a sponsor," says Scott Garrett, a director at London-based sponsorship consultancy Synergy and formerly head of marketing at Williams F1.

Yet Mr. Schumacher's biggest impact will be felt in Germany, where the sport's popularity has been in a tailspin since he drove into the sunset in 2006.

Formula One Management's global broadcast report shows that the number of German viewers watching F1 fell to 29.6 million in 2008 from 42.8 million in 2006. The annual value of German station RTL's TV-rights contract is just $49 million, down from $90 million for Mr. Schumacher's final year in the sport, according to Christian Sylt, co-author of Formula Money, the annual review of the sport's finances.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that Formula 1 is now pinning hopes of a revival on Mr. Schumacher. In 2002, his complete domination of the championship—he won 11 of the 17 races that year—was said to be driving fans away from the sport. Seven years on, his return is being hailed as a triumph.

Write to Jonathan Clegg at jonathan.clegg@wsj.com

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-22-2009, 02:07 AM Thread Starter
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'Schumi wants to add another title to his name'

Total F1

Schumi wants to add another Championship to his name

'Schumi wants to add another title to his name'
Tuesday 22nd December 2009

If you thought Michael Schumacher's impending return to Formula One was just a publicity gimmick, then you will be in for a shock next year.

The German is said to be ready to add 'to his unparalleled haul of seven drivers' titles' when he enters the 2010 World Championship.

The 40-year-old is reportedly just days away from signing a deal with Mercedes GP that will see him return to the sport more than three years after his retirement.

The Times claims that 'there are now no obstacles to Michael Schumacher's comeback next season with Mercedes Grand Prix and that his neck injury is not expected to be a problem.'

When he eventually signs on the dotted line, Schumacher will team up with Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. The younger German, though, has made it clear in recent weeks that he is not prepared to play second fiddle, saying "at Mercedes, there is no hierarchy. It has always been commonplace, that there are two equal drivers."

It appears there will be a genuine battle for top spot at team as Schumacher is also not ready to take a back seat.

'The impression gained is that the German wants to pick up where he left off with Ferrari when he retired in 2006,' the paper added. 'Those suggesting that he may see his role more as a mentor to Nico Rosberg, the 24-year-old who would be his team-mate, than a team-leading championship contender, are wide of the mark.

'He is said to be looking to add not only to his record 91 grand-prix wins, but also to his unparalleled haul of seven drivers' titles and he has already spent many hours discussing his new car with the Mercedes team.'
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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-22-2009, 08:10 AM
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Look for the announcement today.
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-22-2009, 11:32 AM
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We're waiting!
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-23-2009, 08:01 AM
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It's official. The announcement came this morning.
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-23-2009, 11:11 PM Thread Starter
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Michael Schumacher to return to Formula One with Mercedes with all guns blazing

Michael Schumacher to return to Formula One with Mercedes with all guns blazing

Michael Schumacher's inner fire still glows white hot ahead of the seven-times world champion's return to Formula One with Mercedes GP.


By Kevin Garside, Chief Sports Writer
Published: 7:27PM GMT 23 Dec 2009
Michael Schumacher to return to Formula One with Mercedes with all guns blazing

There is, leaning against the gates of St Peter, a celestial Argentine in driving gloves, smiling at the question mark placed by mortals against Michael Schumacher's return. Juan Manuel Fangio won his first Formula One world driver's championship at 40 and his fifth at 46. Different era, yes, but no less a heart was required to turn a wheel.

Schumacher could walk off the street tomorrow and pan the better part of those who will line up against him in Bahrain, by which time he will have turned 41. The question would be better put to the rest of the grid; are you fit enough, strong enough, good enough to take down a speed freak with guns reloaded?

When Tiger Woods, the only athlete of comparable intensity, needed time away from the fairways, he sought respite in cocktail bars. Schumacher went to the gym. You could say he was ready for the question; you set to go Mike?

"I am absolutely confident on this one … when I got into a kart for the first time after my [motorcycle] crash I was straight away on the pace," Schumacher said.

"I have to prove it in real terms, but going wheel-to-wheel with these guys will be thrilling and exciting. It is something I look for. There will be strong competition, as we have seen, but I am thrilled to be back."

As we have heard from soundings taken last week at Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, reconciling the rebooted Schumacher with the melancholy figure that announced his farewell at Monza three years ago will take the edge of Christmas in Italy. Only six months ago at a private racetrack in southern Spain, this correspondent heard from Schumacher that he had no regrets about retirement.

The flame that glows white hot today had, he said, gone out. Schumacher, despite an extra layer of timber around the middle, was still quick enough in shirt sleeves to make my eyes water as he floored a Maserati coupe around the Ascari circuit.

In a sense the decision to quit Ferrari was made for him by the signing of Kimi Raikkonen for 2007. Though the Finn's arrival was not announced until Schumacher had spoken at Monza, the deal was done six months earlier.

Ferrari had not won the championship since 2004. Raikkonen was joining, period. Schumacher had the option to continue. The point was Ferrari had put their money on Raikkonen. Schumacher was no longer Ferrari's first choice, but the option. He learnt the hard way that his time was up.

And that is how it would have remained had the random variable that ricocheted off Rubens Barrichello's Brawn at Budapest into the eye socket of Felipe Massa not changed the course of motor racing history. It was the possibility of replacing Massa that stoked Schumacher's fire.

The neck injury that subsequently prevented it and Jenson Button's decision not to exercise the option he had to race for Brawn in 2010 created the conditions for Wednesday's marriage ceremony at Mercedes.

"I was out of energy by the end of 2006. I needed this time off," Schumacher said. "I wasn't thinking about coming back, and I could not have imagined what would happen. I played around in many areas and had a lot of fun.

"But due to the special combination, I thought why not? I never left the racetrack. In three years of absence I got back all the energy that I am feeling right now. I played around with motorbikes and feel ready for some serious stuff now."

Sport loves a comeback. Formula One is more conducive to the phenomenon than most since the greater part of the strain is taken by the power train, supplied in his case by Mercedes. Schumacher is not required to haul himself up the 21 hairpins at Alpe D'Huez as Lance Armstrong might in the Tour de France; he is not required to take a punch as the boxer eyeing one more punt does.

There is no diminution in the talent Schumacher has for turning in at precisely the right point, for knocking out lap after lap after lap within a fraction of a second, and when that extra 10th is required, for taking a car by the throttle and driving the wheel nuts off it.

Schumacher advanced his cause by taking fitness and preparation in F1 to unprecedented levels, by aligning himself to the right people and building teams around him. But that is not why he won a historic seven world championships. The explanation for that lies in the unique coalition of forces that torch the inner bonfire.

Schumacher's desire was, is, arguably pathological. He would arm wrestle his grandmother for the glory that victory would bring, knowing it to be wrong but unable to resist his genetic coding.

He wants to win too badly; enough to run Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve off the road, to park his car at Rascasse, to ambush his team-mate [Barrichello] coming out of the tunnel and almost push his brother [Ralf] into the wall on the ultimate lap at Monaco, with all of seventh place at issue.

The hunger for that kind of action never went away. It was displaced, popping up again in sundry motorcycle races, skydiving and for all we know in tiddlywinks head-to-heads with the kids.

Now he is back among the madmen of motor racing. Gentlemen start your engines.
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