Later this morning Mercedes GP will announce that Michael Schumacher will drive for the team in 2010. There is a certain delicious irony here; since Mercedes already has Nico Rosberg under contract, many outlets carrying today’s news are describing Schumacher as the team’s ‘second driver’. It will not be so.
Michael Schumacher is the most rapacious competitor ever to stalk the Formula 1 paddock. Anyone who thinks he is coming back just for one last run around the block, or to add to his already considerable wealth, is kidding themselves. He’s here to win the 2010 world championship or die trying.
This hasn’t stopped some people soft-soaping the idea of Schumacher’s comeback. My colleague Ed Gorman wrote in The Times yesterday:
The impression gained is that the German wants to pick up where he left off with Ferrari when he retired in 2006. Those suggesting that he may see his role more as a mentor to Nico Rosberg, the 24-year-old who would be his team-mate, than a team-leading championship contender, are wide of the mark. He is said to be looking to add not only to his record 91 grand-prix wins, but also to his unparalleled haul of seven drivers’ titles.
Ed is pulling his punches here. Only a serial dingbat would imagine that Schumacher is going to play the avuncular mentor role to Rosberg. Michael wouldn’t have signed up unless he was confident he could blow young Nico’s doors off – and he will, by fair means or foul.
For Mercedes this is a PR coup (of sorts), plus some belated ROI after easing Michael’s path to F1 through the junior formulae. For German TV stations it’s good news for viewing figures. For anyone who views Formula 1 as a sport, rather than a crushingly cynical exercise in winning at any cost, it is utterly depressing.
People often ask me what Michael Schumacher is ‘really like’. I say it’s tricky to tell. In many ways he is perfectly normal. He has an extraordinary talent behind the wheel but he is also a family man and he adopts stray dogs. He’s also a shameless cheat.
I say ‘shameless’ advisedly. Michael has a feline quality. Cats have no guilt; a tiger will maul its keeper and then half an hour later wonder where they’ve gone. It’s the same in the business world. Robert Maxwell, Kenneth Lay and Bernard Madoff didn’t view their behaviour as fraud, but simply as a different business model.
It is this mindset that has driven Michael to avail himself of any means necessary to win, whether that be spinning deliberately to spoil an opponent’s qualifying lap (Monaco 2006), punting opponents off the circuit altogether (Australia 1994 and Jerez ’97), or compelling his team-mate to move over (Austria 2002). Let’s not get into the business of illegal traction control systems, although there is a story that Juan Pablo Montoya was moved to such fury at the Brazilian GP one year when he heard the Ferrari’s engine stutter (signifying the presence of TC) that he drove into Schumacher’s car.
For all these reasons I hope Michael Schumacher’s return to Formula 1 is a brief and inglorious one. There is good reason to hope: word reaches me that Sebastian Vettel has already signed a contract with Mercedes in 2011. Let’s drink to that…