Let us examine Michael Schumacher

The word on the street is that Michael Schumacher could be in line for the Mercedes-Benz (née Brawn) drive next year alongside Nico Rosberg. So let us have a logical look at whether this is really going to happen.

There are, of course, plenty of known associations: Ross Brawn oversaw all of Schumacher’s World Championships at Benetton and at Ferrari and knows Michael perfectly. Mercedes-Benz gave Michael his break in motor racing back in the days before Norbert Haug when Jochen Neerpasch picked him for the Mercedes-Benz Junior Team, alongside Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Karl Wendlinger and Fritz Kreutzpointner (hey, you cannot always get it right). Neerpasch played a major role in getting him into F1 and in slipping him out of Jordan and into Benetton. This all makes sense although men like Brawn and Haug are rarely sentimental. You do not get to be successful in F1 without being fairly hard-headed. They will look the facts and decide.

On the downside, Michael is 40 and has a neck injury which was (and perhaps still is) far worse than he ever wanted to admit. He tried to come back in August with Ferrari, but this was stymied by the injury. This was six months after the motorcycle accident that caused the head and neck problems. For now Michael can race in karts and the Race of Champions, but sustained high G seems to be difficult and, according to doctors, not healthy. Michael did say that his neck was not strong enough “yet”, but that may have been a victory of ambition over good sense.

It should also be remembered that when Michael left Ferrari it was because he had been put into a position where he had no choice. The reason Ferrari did this was that the team seemed to think that although he was still quick, he was no longer as fast as was necessary. It replaced him with Kimi Raikkonen. These days Michael is only working for the team as a road car test driver, the decision having been made to stop the F1 work he had been doing. There is no doubt that Michael still loves to race, more than anything else in his life, but there are dangers of going into a Mercedes situation. He would no longer have the advantages that were built into his contracts at Ferrari. It would not be his team and there is not really time to build it into that.

There are also disadvantages in having Michael. Mercedes-Benz wants to get publicity for own products, not for Michael Schumacher. If Michael did return and win the headlines would say “Schumacher!”, whereas if Heidfeld or Rosberg win it will be because the cars have turned them into winners. If Michael arrived and failed then the car would probably take the blame. Thus hiring Schumacher makes less sense for Mercedes-Benz than it at first appears. This is an argument that Mercedes-Benz has long used when asked why it did not hire Michael in the McLaren days. There is no reason why they could not hire him to stand next to cars and say: “I love Mercedes-Benz products because…” but there are downsides to having him racing for them.

The final point is that Michael may want to race but wise heads around him will be explaining to him that the Schumacher legacy will be damaged with poor comebacks. Nigel Mansell could not give up the F1 dream and embarrassed himself with the miserable McLaren business. Knowing when to quit is important in the sporting legend business.

37 thoughts on “Let us examine Michael Schumacher

  1. Morning Joe.

    I don’t think it would be a wise move for Michael.

    I’m not alone in thinking it would be great to see him race again. However, that door’s now closed in his life and any attempt to come back would in no doubt be too greater risk to his ‘legacy’

    Look at Mansell when he returned to Williams and McLaren. Ultimately it was embarrasing for him.

    Let it go Michael, you’ve had your time!

    What do you think? Best to let it lie?

    Adie

  2. As always spot on. Here in Germany Schumacher has become even more sympathetic in recent years due to the halo of wisdom that seems to surround him these days, the tragic of the failure of his comeback and his willingness to admit mistakes made in the past (i.e. Jerez). Driving around in the midfield in a silver arrow would only do harm to that.

  3. I have never heard of Fritz Kreutzpointner, but surely one cannot think of a more German driver with an excellent name such as his 😉

  4. Joe,

    I always dismissed this comeback possibility as pure fantasy (or wishful thinking by nostalgic F1 fans), because it doesn’t make any sense to me.

    The fact that you spend time to post about it means that this rumor indeed has some ground.

    It’s like awakening abruptly, sweating and realizing that these years of battles, championships fought up to the last race, with many drivers capable of winning races and taking pole positions were just a dream. Nooooooo.

  5. Joe, it was great discovering this blog. I have never had an off season as interesting as this. Your competition (where i have been hanging out for the past few years) need to learn one or two tricks from you.

  6. Joe,
    Very interesting development. I do see the logic in the arguments against Schumacher returning vis a vis his “legacy”, but if he can contribute to the team and he wants to, why not. Having won seven world titles, a couple in an unbeatable car, what should he have to prove. Does anyone expect a 40 year old to be as fit and have the reactions of a twenty somthing.

    You mentioned he only drives Ferrari road cars now – so does everyone else on the payroll except for the race drivers since in season testing was eliminated.

    Besides his talent as a driver, his greatest contribution to Ferrari was that he was more than a driver to the team along with others such as Ross Brawn. Kimi Raikkonen was quick – but not too inspiring. He set a few fast laps this season but his overall race didn’t go so well. Outside the cockpit, he really didn’t do anything.

    If he wants to give it a shot, why not? If he can’t bring anything to the team, then I agree but most teams would value an individual capable of contributing to development in addition to being quick. If pure speed is required, then you could drop almost half the field of drivers that fill the cockpits now.

  7. Whilst I agree with most points here, and also think its a little wishful thinking, the fact remains that Michael is probably one of the best, if not the best, development driver(s) ever to grace the earth.

    Mercedes are sorely lacking in a lead development driver now that Jenson has scarpered and taken with him all hope of consitent feedback to the engineering teams – indeed they will need to get used to Rosberg’s reporting style that maybe very different (I’m also yet to be convinced that Nico can lead a team development as the 2009 Williams should have won at least one race).

    Given that Ross and Michael seem to be joined telepathically, it does make some sense to get Michael on board, if for no other reason that to get him to shakedown the car in pre-season testing. At least that way, when the car arrives in Bahrain, Ross will know its good.

  8. It would be nice to see Schumacher make a return. I was no fan of his, but it’s always good to have one of the top drivers back. No matter how unsportshmanshiplike they behave themselves on track. His antics always gave us something to talk about.

    “Nigel Mansell could not give up the F1 dream and embarrassed himself with the miserable McLaren business. Knowing when to quit is important in the sporting legend business.”

    Mansell was never really “sporting legend” material now was he? He only became WDC in a car that was 3 s a lap faster than the competition. By his own words even a monkey could have become WDC in that car. Although he said that about Prost and not himself obviously.

  9. They should bring back in season testing but limited in some form, to give opportunities for new drivers and retirees who refuse to quit. Then hire Schumi to be the test driver and PR guy, and put Kimi in the other car and get on with it.

  10. I am far from being a Schumacher fan but I would love to see him back next year. Sure, Mansell made a fool of himself when he “deretired” but I think Schumacher is in a different league to Mansell. Plus Schumacher hasn’t been eating all the pork pies he can find.

    Schumacher has an outstanding legacy, BUT if he did come back, in a GERMAN car, to be WDC again wouldn’t that just be the cherry on the top.

  11. Adie

    I don’t think it would be a wise move for Mercedes.

    Don’t forget that Schumacher was beaten twice by Alonso. In 2005 you could say the car was poor but in 2006 it was OK. Alonso beat him by 13 points in 2006, certainly not a thrashing but a comfortable margin. It supports the argument that Schumacher’s best days were gone. Remember also that Alonso struggled against a rookie in 2007.

    I don’t agree with some people’s view that he was forced out of Ferrari, but with Raikkonen arriving his time as undisputed number 1 was over. He would have had to race Raikkonen on equal terms and he chose not to.

    Incidentally, I do not agree with the view, often stated but perhaps not in this particulatr post, that he surrendered his drive for Massa’s benefit. When did Schumacher ever do anything in F1 that was for anybody’s benefit other than his own? This was a part of the reason he was so successful. Why would he change?

    Add to the above that he has been gone three seasons, he is now 40 and the neck injury.

    Add to the above that comebacks are rarely successful, the only one I can think of was Lauda and that was twenty five years ago.

    I don’t think it would be a wise move for Mercedes.

  12. It would be a welcome bonus to replace the loss of Raikkonen but I think he’s too much of a Ferrari man to do it.

    Having said that, Luca’s strangely strong desire to run a third Ferrari suggests Micheal wouldn’t mind the opportunity to race again.

  13. Great stuff Mr. Saward, as always.

    The sport, and Bernie E in particular, would love the buzz that that a Schumacker return would generate but I think you are right that it won’t happen.

    Do you think Schumacher’s future lies instead in a role with the FIA, specially given his ties to the current president?

  14. I absolutely agree with you, Joe. We’ve seen so many bad comebacks in sports (not just in F1) that it probably remain a rumour.

    Nevertheless, it would be very exciting from the perspective of an F1 fan to see him compete against Hamilton, Vettel,, Alonso or Massa (no Button as I don’t think he’s one of the fastest one. Maybe 2010 will prove me wrong).

    P.S.
    Here are some comebacks if anyone’s interested:
    http://tr.im/FmQz
    http://tr.im/FmQH
    http://tr.im/FmQS

  15. I would imagine Ferrari would fight such a move desperately. Schumacher is an integral part of the Ferrari legend and that reflective glory would disappear if he showed up in the Mercedes camp.

  16. I can’t see Michael Schumacher at Brawn. Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg make perfect sense to me. I think that Brawn put all their resources into winning the 2009 championship. That left little for the 2010 car which won’t be very competitive.

    Why pay big bucks for Jensen, Kimi, or Michael if you already know you can’t put them in a winning car?

    I think the plan is to use Mercedes money to work on the 2011 car and then sign Vettle next year for a 2011 title run.

  17. EJ’s gone out and said he thinks it’ll happen. Cue the BBC making it their headline.

    Joe, I know you’re friends with EJ, but the things he says sometimes…

  18. Joe,

    BBC are running a story by the buffoon that is Eddie Jordan saying that Schumi is definitely going to join Mercedes. Can you shed any more light on this or is it typical EJ nonsense?

    I personally think it would be a bad move all round. Schumi would damage his reputation and if he does well it will be all him and not the car.

  19. Regarding Lauda’s successful comeback: more relevant than the fact that it was over twenty-five years ago is the fact that he was only thirty-three years old when he made it.

  20. I have a silly theory 🙂 Martin Collyer got me thinking with this: “Incidentally, I do not agree with the view, often stated but perhaps not in this particulatr post, that he surrendered his drive for Massa’s benefit. When did Schumacher ever do anything in F1 that was for anybody’s benefit other than his own?”

    Firstly, it seems Schumacher treats Massa like his protege, so he might have wanted FM to replace him at Ferrari, not Kimi. There’s some talk now, that with Kimi gone for Alonso, Ferrari might pursue Kubica to replace Massa for 2011. If that were the case, Schumacher might race 2010 in Mercedes to make sure Massa lands a seat there for 2011. This of course is silly, but takes into account *MS does things for Massa* seriously, along with other silly assumptions 🙂 So I’m sure Martin would have a laugh on that.

    But to be serious: I think Brawn really need someone like MS to shake down their car ahead of 2010. It’s very risky however to give him a race seat. It might be, as Joe says, that he’s not judging his neck’s shape realistically. It might happen that they’d only be able to make him fit for 4-5 races, and still would be searching for a decent driver… That’s very risky. I personally don’t think his comeback can be done, unless you’d find someone who’d accept reserve driver role at Mercedes and was still fast enough.

  21. I think James Allen might have the best take on it – it’s regained the headlines and the ‘wow’ factor from the McLaren-poaching-Button story.

    Who’ll remember when they announce the boring twins in a few months?

  22. I would go a bit further…
    Not only Schumacher to join Mercedes, but also Raikkonen!
    Mercedes hasn’t announced ANY driver yet, so why not???

  23. “If Michael did return and win the headlines would say “Schumacher!”, whereas if Heidfeld or Rosberg win it will be because the cars have turned them into winners. If Michael arrived and failed then the car would probably take the blame.”

    And what happens if Schumacher ‘fails’ – let’s face it, anything less than a title fight taken to the wire would be seen as a failure for him – but Rosberg wins the title?

    Schumacher has certainly lost some of his edge due to age and sitting on the sidelines for several seasons, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ‘fails’. He is far from his 100% but even so he’s better than most of the current F1 grid save for the top 4-5 drivers.

    What he can still do better than anyone in F1 today is to generate a huge amount of positive media buzz and galvanize the casual F1 audience.

    And of course, attract sponsors.

    And he’s still very useful for testing/setup work, to sort out the car. He would be invaluable in a support role for a young charger like Rosberg in the other Mercedes car to take the title.

    Would that really be a ‘failure’?

  24. Regarding EJ… I have a lot of respect for what he’s done as a businessman and a team owner, but I don’t think he makes a good pundit. He’s just wrong too often, and seems to say things without thinking them through, in order to be interesting.

    Re MS, I don’t see Ferrari letting him do it, even if he’s fit.

  25. Does the car really need someone like Schumacher to do the initial testing? JB knew the Brawn car was good straight away at the celebrated first test in Barcelona, just as he knew the Honda before it wasn’t.

    Maybe that says more about Jenson Button than it does about the cars.

  26. Your comments within the Shumaker piece reminded me, is it possible for you to clarify the type of contract condition that some drivers achieve in making themselves “number one” in a team, or otherwise having the team “support” them .

    Thanks.

  27. I am thinking that Button got wind of the potential for MS to join Brawn/Mercedes and with Rosberg coming aboard realized that he would have been in a difficult place. Though the MS potential was slight, he was probably insulted by it and decided to jump ship while he still can (before Kimi was signed). So even though Joe’s article makes sense (referring more to the cons), I’m thinking that the media buzz around F1 and the Mercedes team would weigh more heavily than the potential of overshadowing that MS would bring.

  28. If a relative unknown wins races then it only gets 10% of the coverage that race wins with a well known name would achieve.

    I can see no downsides to a Schumacher comeback.

    He was as faster, if not faster, than anyone when he left…..I would expect him to step straight back and carry on as before, maybe hungrier?

  29. The number of comments to this post already show what a coup it would be for Bernie to get him back into F1. People say the current stars are pretty big names and we don’t need Michael but…

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