Michael Schumacher has only been back in Formula 1 for a couple of days and already he’s at the centre of a controversy, albeit one which says more about the state of the sport than about him and Ferrari.
Schumacher does not simply have to get back up to speed, he has much to learn about the 2009 cars before he makes his dramatic comeback at the European Grand Prix in Valencia on 23 August. They have adjustable front wings and above all the Ferrari has KERS, which he needs to learn how to use. So Ferrari understandably requested that the other teams allow him one day to test the car. And understandably the teams were not in a position to unanimously agree to that. So it will not happen.
Why should a seven times world champion get a day to familiarise himself with the car when a total novice, Jaime Alguersuari was denied that opportunity before his debut in Budapest and presumably Romain Grosjean will have no such luxury before he replaces Nelson Piquet?
No reason at all, but you’d have to say that as F1 is supposed to be about excellence, it’s a bad rule which forces all of these men to go into their big weekend poorly prepared.
Schumacher’s knowledge of the F60 will be merely what he can glean from sessions on the FIAT simulator, which is not as sophisticated as the McLaren one.
But for the 2009 cars the simulator lacks one key ingredient, which is an understanding of the way these tyres need to be ‘switched on’ and how difficult it is to do that. We have seen some extraordinary things this season, with slow cars suddenly putting on an amazing turn of speed or supposedly fast cars like the Brawn, unable to get the tyres working and toiling around to get poor results. Ferrari have had their fair share of these problems this year, I’ve sat in many a post race media debrief with Stefano Domenicali shaking his head about the tyres not working. This will be the area of most concern and focus once Schumacher has learned when to push the KERS button.
Schumacher will do plenty of real testing however; he is allowed to get back up to speed using a 2007 car, the one in which Raikkonen won the world championship. Although the F1 factory is on enforced closure for two weeks, the Corsa Clienti division, which manages and runs old Ferrari cars on behalf of wealthy customers, is managing Schumacher’s programme. He ran at Mugello yesterday on GP2 slick tyres.
These days are important because, aside from reconditioning his muscles to the demands of driving an F1 car, Schumcher’s brain will not be up to speed. To start with the car will be ahead of him. I remember interviewing Ayrton Senna when he came back in February 1993 to test not having driven a car since the previous November and he spoke very interestingly about the time it had taken for his brain to catch up with the speed of the car. Schumacher is less poetic than Senna was, but he will no doubt be very interesting on the subject.
I’m in Italy at the moment and the return of “il campionissimo’ is getting people very excited here. It will inject some interest into a disappointing campaign for Ferrari and will give a lot of motivation to the team members themselves.