F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has tipped returnee Michael Schumacher for the drivers' crown in 2010, six years on from when the German legend last lifted the ultimate laurels – as the British billionaire predicts 'a jaw-dropping season' ahead.
It was finally officially confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that Schumacher has agreed terms to race for Mercedes Grand Prix next year, on a one-year deal with options for a further two should both sides be in agreement [see separate story – click here
Ecclestone insists he was not greatly surprised by the announcement – “there was speculation around for quite a while, and I was pretty sure that he would do it if his physical status would allow it,” he explains – and has expressed his conviction that what is being billed as 'the greatest comeback in sports history' can do nothing but good for F1 after three years of scandals, controversies and high-profile departures.
“I think it is fantastic for Formula 1 that he turned into a 'comeback kid',” the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive enthused, speaking to the official F1 website, “but at the same time I also think that it's good for Michael. When drivers have put in many years, they sometimes lose focus and motivation – probably that was one of the reasons for his retirement in 2006 – but now he has again put all his strength together and has a 100 per cent motivation level, and that will give us many exciting races in 2010.
“Knowing him for so many years, I was very confident that F1 would see his comeback. Michael, as we all know, was and is one of the most outstanding characters F1 has ever created. Forget about winning races – I have him on my bill for winning the championship (in 2010).
“He will be of immense value for the team to push the development of the car. We have all seen in the past that he was never satisfied unless the car was in perfect condition. With his drive for the optimum and his deep technical understanding, he will save the team precious time – [and team-mate] Nico Rosberg will be the one who will directly benefit from all this.”
As to his forecast for 2010, finally – with a breathtaking line-up of Schumacher and Rosberg at Mercedes, F1's last two world champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa at Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing – Ecclestone suggests fans will be kept right on the edge of their seats from lights-out in Bahrain all the way to the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi precisely eight months later.
“I always said that Formula 1 is a strong brand,” the 79-year-old concluded. “It has demonstrated time and again that it can pull itself up by its own bootstraps, and yes, all indications point to a jaw-dropping season. Fans will love it.”