Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Schumacher halts F1 Comeback - for the moment

A fortnight of almost intolerable excitment at the thought of seeing Michael Schumacher race for Ferrari again has given way to disappointment and tears in the Earl Grey as he announced today that he's had to pull out because the effects of a neck injury he sustained in a bike race in February mean that he can't take the stresses that an F1 race would inflict on him.

His statement had a very interesting turn of phrase, though:

"That is why my neck cannot stand the extreme stresses caused by Formula 1 YET." The emphasis is all mine, and I know I might be reading too mucch into it, but why say it if nothing else was planned and this was it, over, finito, for good.

I kind of thought that I was clutching at straws until this story came out via Autosport later in the day saying that Ferrari were trying to find a way of getting a third car on the grid for next year for Michael Schumacher to make at least a partial comeback. Now, I can't see it myself, especially as the FIA have opened selection for the final two slots on the grid, but I do wonder what they're playing at.

It certainly seems that Schumacher wants to race again, even if just for a little while. I wonder if the YET could also signify that, with training and physio, he could be race fit for Monza in mid September or for one of the later races in the season if Massa has not returned.

It's a big shame for all the people who had bought tickets for Valencia to see the Schumi comeback. It would be really nice if he was able to go down there and meet some of the fans. Mind you, they're going to have a lovely weekend in a gorgeous place, so they're not really missing out - and hopefully they're going to see the Brawns back on form.

This whole episode makes it seem to me that Ferrari have been really bad at succession planning. The second Ferrari at Valencia will be driven by Blast from the Past Luca Badoer who has been Ferrari's test driver since his remarkably unspectacular Formula 1 career ended in 1999. Ferrari seems to me to be like this big close knit family that when it takes you to its bosom, doesn't let you go again. Even Ross Brawn, who is a big boy now and has his own team said to Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian paper, that “Michael has simply responded to the passion and the bond of loyalty he has for Ferrari,” says Brawn. “A passion I continue to feel myself." (Hat tip to James Allen ). You get the feeling that Ross would have understood a huge part of his team's fan base trying and failing to suppress the words "Go Schumi" as they watched Michael race. It's kind of like the ex you've never quite got over coming back when you're settled in a new relationship.

Anyway, to get back to the point, once you're in the Ferrari family you're in, but they don't seem to do that much planning for the future. Why are they not getting younger test drivers, with talent, in so that they can grow up with Ferrari and drive for them in the future. It's been the Ferrari way to grab the hot driver of the moment and hang on to them, but there are obvious flaws in that strategy, as we are now finding out.

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