Today has seen a groundswell of stories about Michael Schumacher talking to Mercedes about making a return to F1 next season. I’ve had dozens of readers asking whether this is the case or not, meanwhile Eddie Jordan has stuck his neck out and said on the BBC website that the deal is on and Schumacher will be racing in silver next season.
The Telegraph’s Kevin Garside, who no longer covers F1 on a regular basis, has gone overboard on the story today too, albeit with no quotes or attributions. The authoritative end of the German media is strangely silent on the matter.
The rumours are being fanned by Norbert Haug’s suggestion that the Mercedes driver line up would feature some “surprises”.
So is it serious?
Let’s take a step back and assess this situation. Schumacher was very eager to make a comeback this summer when Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo asked him to stand in for the injured Felipe Massa. Schumacher recently admitted that his decision to go for it was emotionally driven, rather than rationally driven and he regretted letting it become public before he had been able to assess whether his injured neck would take it.
The neck will supposedly be fine by the end of the year so physically he should be cleared by doctors to race, if he wants to.
Schumacher’s spokeswoman, Sabine Kehm says that she does not think he is in discussions with Mercedes nor that he will come back full time next season, but then she added the caveat that with Schumacher, you can never say never. His decision to go for it last summer was as big a shock to her as it was to the rest of us.
But the 40 year old said that what attracted him was the idea of doing just a few races, to get the buzz again. He was not keen on doing a whole season. In a recent interview for a Shell PR handout, Schumacher said that he did not want to be seen as a “Grandad” in Formula 1.
“There’s lots of talk about me returning to Formula One, ” he said. “I was very close obviously this year to replacing Felipe, but whether I’m going to race in the future or not, we will see. I guess my neck by the end of the year or beginning of next year will be fully fine, but I will be 41 – and that would make me the grandad of F1! I’m not sure I want that.”
But once again this is a moment of need, this time for his old friend and colleague, Ross Brawn. Brawn however said yesterday to Gazzetta dello Sport that Schumacher and he working together next year was not a likelihood.
This week has been a tough one for the new Brawn/Mercedes alliance. McLaren has hijacked the PR agenda with a bold swoop for World Champion Jenson Button. Mercedes needed a quick win in return and these rumours about Schumacher give them that instant boost, whether they are true or not. The attention is back on Mercedes.
Schumacher still has a profile to maintain for the benefit of his many sponsors and all this attention is a win for both him and Mercedes, regardless of whether anything comes of it. Would it be good for F1? Undoubtedly. Does F1 need it? More debatable now that we have some really strong storylines, like Hamilton vs Button, Hamilton vs Alonso in rival cars and the continuing rise of Vettel. It’s not as if Bernie Ecclestone needs a new trick to get interest in the sport going.
I’ve said all along Mercedes long-term target has to be to get Sebastian Vettel once his Red Bull contract expires at the end of 2011 and they need a stop-gap until then. Lewis Hamilton must also be a target. Button didn’t fancy being that stop-gap and has bought the McLaren dream of the “British Ferrari”, which Ron Dennis is peddling to him.
The reality of Schumacher and Brawn reprising their all conquering partnership at Mercedes would have been easy to imagine a few years ago, but now it is hard to see what is to be gained from it. I can see Mercedes wanting to have Schumacher on board as a consultant, as he is to Ferrari. He never raced for them in F1, but he raced for them in sportscars in 1990 and 1991. He and Mercedes are one of those relationships doomed never to happen in F1 terms.
Driving in F1 today is nothing like as time consuming as it was in the days of endless testing. Over the summer, Schumacher was very excited by the idea of racing again.
Will it happen? I would be very surprised, but as he says, “never say never.”