Seven-time F1 champ Schumacher puts legacy at stake with return from retirement
The Dec. 22, 2009 picture released by Brawn GP on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 shows German F1 driver Michael Schumacher in the headquarters of British Brawn GP in Brackley, England. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Brawn GP)
MADRID, Spain - Michael Schumacher's return to Formula One after three years in retirement certainly marks a historic turn in the sport's history.
The question is: Will it enhance or damage the German's glittering legacy?
The record seven-time world champion, who agreed Wednesday to drive for Mercedes for at least the 2010 season, is F1's most successful driver with record numbers in all categories: 91 race wins, 68 pole positions and 76 fastest laps.
But will his comeback be a success or another example of an over-the-hill athlete clutching at past glory?
"I never left the racetrack. I kept the motivation and maintained it," Schumacher said. "I still feel absolutely on the edge. I have to prove it in a real car."
Schumacher returns in one of the most competitive eras of F1, with four champions on the starting grid. That includes Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and McLaren teammate and defending champion Jenson Button, who won with Brawn in 2009 during a season where rule changes shook up the pecking order.
Is the soon to be 41-year-old Schumacher ready for the new F1?
"(The cars) will be slightly different but I have been in so many characters of different cars over the years," Schumacher said. "The strong part of myself is I am capable of adapting in all circumstances."
Schumacher will look to follow Niki Lauda and Alain Prost as drivers who came out of retirement to win F1 titles.
British bookmaker British Hill is giving odds of 6-1 on Schumacher winning the 2010 title, behind Hamilton (9-4), Alonso (7-2) and Sebastian Vettel (11-2) and tied with Button.
Schumacher would hope to match Michael Jordan's first return to the Chicago Bulls, which he led to three straight NBA titles, or boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who returned after three years to defeat Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title.
The driver would not, however, want to replicate Jordan's second comeback, a forgettable two seasons with the Washington Wizards. Another athlete who struggled in his comeback was Swedish tennis great Bjorn Borg, who returned after eight years out but was unable to adapt to a new era of racket technology and changing play.
"Schumacher coming back to F1 is great news for the sport," Button said recently. "But I don't know if it will be great news for Michael Schumacher. He will be putting his reputation on the line coming back into the sport."
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn is certain that Schumacher can make a smooth transition.
"He is the best judge of what he can do," said Brawn, who was the architect of each of Schumacher's seven championships. "I trust him implicitly and he says he can do it."
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