As he prepares to make what is being billed as 'the greatest comeback in sports history' in 2010, Michael Schumacher has admitted that whilst he felt ready for a break from F1 three years ago, in the intervening period he has never once lost his motivation – adding that he remains 'absolutely on the edge' as he gets set for a return to the 'serious stuff'.
Schumacher will break off a 52-race absence when he sensationally rejoins the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Sakhir in mid-March, and his agreement to compete alongside highly-rated young compatriot Nico Rosberg at Mercedes Grand Prix – on a three-year deal, he has confirmed, not only one as was originally believed, meaning he will be 44-years-old by the end of it – represents a return to his roots of sorts, as it was the Stuttgart manufacturer that first helped him into F1 in the first place with Jordan almost two decades ago.
Not only that, but the move marks a reunion with team principal Ross Brawn – the technical genius who expertly guided Schumacher to all seven of his record-breaking tally of drivers' crowns, firstly at Benetton and then Ferrari – thereby re-instating the most successful duo in the sport's history. The wrong side of 40 he may now be, but when the German legend talks about fighting for an unprecedented eighth world championship title next year, you cannot help but sit up and take notice.
“Having played around with motorbikes, I feel ready for some serious stuff,” Schumacher is quoted as having said by Reuters
and The Associated Press
“We are talking about a three-year deal; it's not just a one-off thing. We are looking for continuation. I never left the racetrack; I kept the motivation and maintained it. I still feel absolutely on the edge – [and] I have to prove it in a real car.
“I was tired of F1 by the end of 2006; I was out of energy and needed this time off, but after three years of absence I am getting back all the energy and I feel strong right now. [The cars] will be slightly different, but I have been in so many different cars over the years. The strong part of myself is [that] I am capable of adapting in all circumstances.”
That strength extends also to his neck – the sole impediment that prevented a return to substitute former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa following the Brazilian's terrifying, high-speed Hungaroring qualifying accident back during the summer – with the Kerpen native adamant that his motorcycling-induced injury is no longer any cause for concern.
“I can say 100 per cent that the neck is no longer an issue,” he underlined. “Unfortunately, it was too close to the accident in the summer when I tried for Ferrari. Time now is enough for it to have healed completely.”
Indeed, the F1 he rejoins is a far cry from the F1 he left back in 2006, with a number of manufacturers having since headed for the exit door, and an influx of new, young and hungry talent having joined the fray – with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel palpably champing at the bit to go wheel-to-wheel with the driver widely considered as the greatest there has ever been. The majority of his rivals, indeed, will likely be closer to half Schumacher's age than to his actual age – and one of the most fascinating aspects of his return will be to see if the 91-time grand prix-winner still has what it takes to teach the young guns a lesson or two.
The jury remains out as to whether the comeback is inspired, brave or foolhardy – with some suggesting Schumacher has far more to lose than to gain given the potential damage to his reputation should he fail to perform to the expected level. With four F1 World Champions in the field and Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, 2009 title-winner Jenson Button, Vettel, Mark Webber and Massa all likely to be in the mix for glory, the top flight could be in for its most open campaign in years – and a seventh-place championship finish for 'Schumi' would do his global image little favours at all.