Despite giving his support to second stand-in Luca Badoer ahead of next weekend's European Grand Prix, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has admitted that he was 'very disappointed' to learn that Michael Schumacher was abandoning his return to the cockpit of an F1 car.
The German had been slated to replace the injured Felipe Massa alongside 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, following the Brazilian's freak accident in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, but was himself forced to stand down due to health concerns when it became apparent that a neck injury sustained in a motorcycle crash in February had not fully healed.
Schumacher discovered the problem on his first outing with a 2007-spec Ferrari, fitted with GP2 slicks, at Mugello, but had hoped that the pain would pass before conducting a second test this week. However, still in discomfort at the weekend, he requested a second opinion, which revealed that fractures had still not healed sufficiently to withstand the G-forces generated by an F1 machine, particularly over a race distance.
"I learned about the problem on Monday evening," di Montezemolo told Italian newspaper La Stampa
, "He had the small motorcycle accident in February and, on the first laps at Mugello, he felt that something was wrong. Over the last days, Michael had anticipated that he was about to go back to Germany for another scan of his neck, [but] it seemed to be a formality.
"Instead, they found something [with his neck] that still didn't work, so it's better not to insist [that he continue with his comeback]. We wouldn't do that at all. You shouldn't joke with your health. Of course, I am very disappointed. The enthusiasm [with which] Schumacher accepted the challenge, for how it went, was completely spontaneous - but let me say it again, it's too risky."
di Montezemolo also revealed Schumacher's disappointment in not being able to take up the challenge of tackling the new class of F1 driver. Only ten names from his final season would have lined up to tackle the German in Valencia - with the injured Massa an eleventh survivor of the 2006 campaign - presenting Schumacher with an opportunity to measure himself against the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
"You can imagine how he took it," di Montezemolo said, "He answered my request with such enthusiasm - the enthusiasm of a boy and not of a retired champion. He lost four kilos, [to get down to the] same weight as in October 2006, when he raced for the last time in Brazil."
Asked why he had opted for Schumacher over a younger driver, di Montezemolo insisted that there was no choice in the matter.
"Well, we're talking about Michael Schumacher," he claimed, "He is 40 years old, but he's still from another planet. I prefer the champion, even if matured, to the mediocre driver, even if he's young. Besides, our circus needed some great input."