Friday, March 12, 2010

F1 legend Michael Schumacher is back in the cockpit at Bahrain but we ask at what price?
The most eagerly awaited F1 season in years gets underway in the desert of Bahrain on Sunday and to celebrate we've launched a brand new and exciting blog, which promises to keep you in the fast lane. Stay tuned for the latest insight in what is poised to be a thrilling year.

THE utter dejection etched across Michael Schumacher’s face upon announcing his aborted Formula One comeback last year was evident for everyone to see.

‘For a moment,’ the seven-time world champion said, ‘I felt like I was back alive.’ To many observers this was statement of his intent to make a 2010 comeback, some three years after we last saw him fist pump from the top of the rostrum.

And when Ross Brawn, the man chiefly responsible for each of Schumacher’s successes in securing seven titles, and the German manufacturer Mercedes came calling in November last year, his answer was unlikely to be nein.

But at the grand old age of 41, why is the most decorated F1 driver of all time back on the grid?

Apart from starting the most Grand Prix (that honour lies with Rubens Barrichello) Schumacher has smashed every record in the sport. Most Grand Prix wins, check. In fact standing at 91, he has some 40 more than second on the list Alain Prost. Most pole-positions, check. 68 is 3 better than legend Ayrton Senna. And most importantly F1 world title crowns, check. 7 is 2 more than the great Juan Manuel Fangio ever achieved.

For all his undoubted ability however, the German’s success did not come without controversy. Who can forget his inaugural Championship in 1994, when he rammed title contender Damon Hill off the road in a do-or-die manoeuvre during the final race of the season at Adelaide?

A move he subsequently tried three years later on Jacques Villeneuve. With a slowing car and his title aspirations slipping away from him, he deliberately drove into the Canadian’s passing Williams. But this time it didn’t work. Schumacher was forced to retire, leaving commentator Martin Brundle to exclaim, ‘You’ve hit the wrong part of him, my friend’.

In 1998 he claimed David Coulthard tried to ‘f***ing kill’ him after HE drove into the back of the Scotsman during a soaking Belgian Grand Prix.

While in 2006, he inexplicably parked his Ferrari on the final corner during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix forcing title rival, Fernando Alonso, to slow to avoid him and with it lose his chance of beating Schumacher’s qualifying time.

And let’s not get started on the farcical ‘team-orders’ debacle during a decade of a one-man show at Ferrari.

Even his move to retire in 2006, despite both he and Ferrari claiming it was an amicable one, reeked of a man being pushed rather than one taking the proverbial jump. He’s looked about as comfortable in his subsequent role as the Prancing Horse’s technical adviser as Flavio Briatore would on a lie-detector machine.

So despite 14 trophy-laden years in the sport, Schumacher still feels he has something to prove to cement his legacy in motoring’s elite competition and sway the critics.

From a personal point of view, I think it’s excellent news to have Schumacher back on the F1 grid. Ranked alongside Prost, Senna, Fangio and Jimmy Clark the German, despite his aforementioned notoriety, has a record that speaks for itself. And for a world champion driver like Lewis Hamilton to make his claim to join them, he has to race against them. Now he will get his chance.

But for Schumacher’s sake, let’s hope his hugely anticipated return to the track compares to comeback sporting royalty in the ilk of Sir Steve Redgrave and Lance Armstrong, who both fought off life-threatening illnesses to reach the pinnacle of their respective sports once again.

Sadly however, for every Redgrave and Armstrong there are five Muhammad Alis, Bjorn Borgs and Mark Spitzs – examples of elite sportsman who just didn’t know when to walk away. The question on the eve of the season’s curtain raiser in Bahrain is has Schuey got enough gas in the tank to prove he truly is the greatest driver ever to sit in a Formula One cockpit?

Schumacher’s F1 comeback makes the class of 2010 the greatest in terms of world champions competing in a single season since 1999. The current grid boasts the seven-time champion as well as double-winner Fernando Alonso and Britain’s back-to-back kings of the track Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

But in comparison to eleven years ago when Mika Hakkinen waltzed to his second consecutive title, while Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve pottered around in a largely uncompetitive Jordan and BAR respectively and Schumacher was ruled out for six races after breaking his leg at the British Grand Prix, this season’s quartet are expected to do battle in the best cars on the track over an unprecedented 19 races.

All of which adds up to making this season one of the most eagerly anticipated in recent history.


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