Schumacher’s Return Isn’t So Bad

It became official this morning: Michael Schumacher has departed his advisory role with Ferrari to take a race seat at Mercedes GP, where he will be reunited with Ross Brawn.

I’m surprised at this news, in the beginning I thought it was a ploy by Mercedes to extract a better deal first from Jenson Button, and then Kimi Raikkonen. It looks like they were serious all along!

I am not a fan of Michael Schumacher. He has a known history of “bending the rules” (I’m being charitable, it is Christmas) at both Benetton and Ferrari and the FIA consistently let him off with weak penalties or none at all. He is the man who took Senna’s swerving and weaving to a new level, to the extent that all the young drivers in lower formulae starting doing it, thinking it was normal. Yet I find myself excited at his return. Why?

You have to say this wouldn’t have happened had Ross Brawn not been involved with the team. The two have enjoyed a lot of success together and I for one am not looking forward to the kind of dominance they so frequently displayed. Schumacher and Brawn’s unique combined skill was to do things with fuel strategy that no other driver/strategist combination could. Schumacher has the ability to drive the car to a target laptime, relentlessly. It was this ability that allowed Brawn’s to put into play fuel strategies that just wouldn’t have otherwise worked. The combination of the two was dominating.

The rules have changed now. There is no more in-race refuelling, so this advantage no longer applies. The most they can do is be creative with tyre strategies while managing the weight of the car. It will be very interesting to see how this pairing copes under the new rules, probably more so than anyone else.

We have a level playing field again and one in which the driver has more say – and we know Schumacher prefers an open track to wheel-to-wheel racing. Over a lap he is better than nobody but he doesn’t like the wheel-to-wheel, where he panics. This is where Alonso beat him before, and I believe will again – even better, he’ll be driving Michael’s red car! Then there’s Hamilton and we know he’s not scared of a fight either, with Button, Vettel and hopefully Massa making life interesting too.

2010 will feature one of the strongest grids in years among the ‘regular’ runners, then add in the new teams who will almost certainly be getting in the way for much of the year as an added distraction (and possible Safety Car enabler) and we have the recipe for an amazing season. It was shaping up to be so anyway, and now everybody will have just one man in their sights.

I am looking forward to Schumacher attempting to best this new generation of racers, many of whom have never raced him in F1 – and the ‘new Button’, the champion Button, could surprise him too.

I feel relieved for Rubens Barrichello who could easily have played the role of Schumi’s Lapdog once again, Williams may be a step down but he is team-leader at last and it’ll suit him well, and he can now play a role similar to that of his good friend Tony Kanaan.

I feel bad for Nico Rosberg who may have expected to be sitting alongside Nick Heidfeld next year and now faces the inevitibility of being No.2 in a team revolving around Schumacher, for it is clear even before it has been mentioned that MS will be the de facto Number One.

I even feel bad for Heidfeld who is probably going to be stuck with Sauber again, the Merc seat was probably his last shot at a race-winning drive.

In summary then, I fully expect Schumacher to play his old tricks again but the other aspects of his return outweigh that for the short term at least, and the sudden jump in media coverage and internet discussion is testament to ability to draw fans back to F1 – perhaps his return will see a rise in TV ratings and race attendances once more, after 2009’s dip.

The thing I’m really not looking forward to is dealing with the pro/anti MS arguments again, the bane of internet discussion for the bulk of this decade. Twitter is going to be a nightmare.

* *
I promised to update my entry list after every driver annoucement, here is the first update:

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
McLaren Mercedes MP4-25
1. Jenson Button 2. Lewis Hamilton T: tbc
Mercedes GP Petronas
Mercedes Mercedes tbc
3. Michael Schumacher 4. Nico Rosberg T: tbc
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Renault RB6
5. Sebastian Vettel 6. Mark Webber T: tbc
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
Ferrari Ferrari tbc
7. Felipe Massa 8. Fernando Alonso T: G.Fisichella
AT&T Williams
Williams Cosworth FW32
9. Rubens Barrichello 10. Nico H├╝lkenberg T: tbc
Renault F1 Team
Renault Renault R30
11. Robert Kubica 12. tbc T: tbc
Force India F1 Team
Force India Mercedes VJM03
14. Adrian Sutil 15. Vitantonio Liuzzi T: tbc
Scuderia Toro Rosso
STR Ferrari STR5
16. Sebastien Buemi 17. tbc T: tbc
Lotus F1 Racing
Lotus Cosworth tbc
18. Jarno Trulli 19. Heikki Kovalainen T: F.Fauzy
Campos Meta 1
Campos Dallara Cosworth tbc
20. tbc 21. Bruno Senna T: tbc
US F1 Team
US F1 Cosworth tbc
22. tbc 23. tbc T: tbc
Virgin Racing
Virgin Cosworth VR-01
24. Timo Glock 25. Lucas di Grassi T: A.Parente
T: L.Razia
Sauber
Sauber Ferrari C29
26. Kamui Kobayashi 27. tbc T: tbc

There is also the Stefan GP team waiting in the wings to get an entry either in 2010 or 2011, they say they have signed drivers already, the buzz says one of those drivers is likely to be Vitaly Petrov.

FIA Presidency

Jean Todt won the FIA Presidential Election.

I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. He made many fans’ lives a misery for years at Ferrari with his sniping and bending of the rules.

It sucks that a) he had the better ideas and manifesto, and b) won.
Such a shame Vatanen came over as just a bit too clueless.

We’ll wait and see if this new era brings us the promised changes or if he’ll ‘forget’. His first act appears to be to make Michael Schumacher his F1 Commissioner. I have no idea how true that is. Let’s hope not at all.

On the plus side… he’s gotta be better than Max.

Michael Schumacher Returns

It was too good to be true, wasn’t it?

He’s back. HE’S back. Him. That man. The one we thought we’d got rid of.

We’ve had a great year and a half without him and it has been brilliant to see new drivers come to the fore and make F1 their own, and also watching Ferrari evolve in the post-Schumacher, post-Todt era. I’d even begun to not dislike them.

I do wonder how MS will fit in as a race driver in that changed environment, rather than a ‘consultant’ on the pit wall. Let’s hope none of the old nonsense returns.

I must admit to being curious about how he’ll perform after so long away, in a new-style car with no testing whatsoever – and in Valencia on a circuit he hasn’t driven before vs most of the rest of the field who have.

As much as I dislike the guy and his tactics, you can’t deny that in terms of ability and application he is the best of his generation if not all of them. If he didn’t pull such ridiculous stunts I might even have become a fan of his, and yet… too many, too often, too deceitful. So it’ll be interesting to see it for a race or two, though I don’t think I want to see him for any more than that.

Realistically Massa won’t be in the car before winter testing resumes in January, but still… get well soon Felipe.