The Schumacher Effect: the Ups and Downs of a Week in Formula One

Published 13 October 2009

By Jamie Horner, Ashfords LLP

Formula One, and motorsport as a whole, has received a massive boost after a very difficult couple of weeks with the announcement that seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher will return to the cockpit of a Formula One car at the European Grand Prix, in Valencia on 23 August 2009.

 

The media frenzy, following the announcement of Schumacher's return to the grid, confirms that the draw of the most successful driver of all time is clearly as great as it was before he retired. Bernie Ecclestone will be delighted that, in what is already arguably the most exciting season for years, Formula One will surely experience a further surge in interest and viewing figures for the remaining rounds of the 2009 Championship, as a direct result of Schumacher's involvement. 

Schumacher has agreed to come out of retirement to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari. Massa remains in hospital in Budapest following the life-threatening injury that he sustained last Saturday, in qualifying at the Hungarian Grand Prix, when an errant steel spring from the rear of Barrichello's Brawn, hit his helmet at a speed in excess of 160 mph. The press have reported that Massa is making good progress with his recovery, however, his, hopefully temporary, absence from the grid has opened the door for Schumacher to return to the grid after he retired from the sport in 2006. 

Massa's accident brought back haunting memories of the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994, and came only a week after Henry Surtees, the son of former Formula One World Champion John Surtees, had been tragically killed following a similar incident in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch. 

Schumacher, now aged 40, announced his Grand Prix return in a week that also saw Red Bull ace Jaime Alguersuari become the youngest driver to race in a Formula One at 19 years and 125 days, after he replaced Sebastien Bourdais at Torro Rosso, beating Mike Thackwell's record by 57 days, and the breaking news of BMW's withdrawal from Formula One at the end of 2009 because of a "strategic realignment". The German team's exit from the sport fuelled further rumours about the commitment of the likes of Toyota and Renault to Formula One. 

Schumacher is not, however, the oldest driver to race in Formula One and will need to extend his career bound a handful of Grand Prix appearances at Ferrari as Massa's replacement to take that honour. When Britain's Nigel Mansell drove in the Spanish Grand Prix in 1995 he was aged 41 years 9 months and 6 days, Louis Chiron entered the Monaco Grand Prix in 1958 at the age of 58 years 9 months and 15 days, but failed to qualify for the race, and Philip Etancelin started the French Grand Prix in 1952 he was aged 55 years 6 months and 9 days. 

Schumacher is still to face FIA medical assessments. Queries have been raised about the strength of his neck following an motorcycle accident earlier this year, and he will have not tested the 2009 Ferrari before the Valencia Grand Prix nor has he competed in a night race or used the KERS system before. He will be no doubt spending many hours in Ferrari's simulator at Fiorano in the build up to Valencia. 

Given the severity of Massa's injuries, Schumacher's likely involvement in all of the remaining races of the 2009 Formula One Championship will surely have a crucial impact on the Brawn and Red Bull title race, as well as, affording last year's World Champion Lewis Hamilton the opportunity to race against one of motorsports' all time greats. 

It is highly likely that given his extraordinary talent that Michael Schumacher will at least emulate, and may even surpass the achievement of fellow seven time champion Lance Armstrong, who came third in the 2009 Tour de France following his return to competitive cycling this year after retiring in 2005.

For more information and contacts: Alison Jobson, Ashfords LLP, Head of Business Development & Marketing, 01392 333861 Jamie Horner, Ashfords LLP, Partner, Sports Team, 01392 333993 Ashfords LLP is a full service law firm with dedicated corporate, commercial, public sector and private client solicitors serving local, national and international clients.