Germany, despite the rather large blot on its historical copybook, has achieved some pretty spectacular things in its time. It gave the world Beethoven, Kant, Schopenhauer, BMW, VW, Porsche, Bavarian Lager and ethically dubious pornography. It also gave the world a racing driver who dominated Formula One with an almost invincible aura.
Britain might have won the wars and fluked a world cup, but for all our illustrious world champions (and we’ve had a bundle), we’ve never had anyone quite to touch Michael Schumacher. Opinion is divided as to whether he purposely rammed Damon Hill out of the world title decider in 1994 but, aside from a couple of other moments of dubious sportsmanship, he proved himself the greatest driver of his generation and possibly any other. When he retired in 2006, the rest of the Formula One breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Fast forward to 2009. A one kilogram suspension spring falls out of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP and goes skittering down the track behind him. Approaching that spring, at some 150mph, is Felipe Massa. The chances of the spring hitting him, let alone puncturing his specially constructed helmet, are infinitesimal. But it does. Knocked unconscious, his feet slump onto the accelerator and brake simultaneously, sending him flying into the tire wall. It is a tragic accident that will leave him out of Formula One for at least the rest of the season.
Michael Schumacher’s plans for the weekend of the 21st of August are about to change.
At the Valencia Grand Prix, the world will once again see the imposing sight of Schumacher climbing into a Ferrari. Not on Top Gear, not outside a West London hotel, not on a test track, but in a fireproof race suit in the pit lane of a Formula One World Championship race. Children who flocked to the sport after Hamilton’s thrilling victory last year will get the chance to see the sport’s most famous son in action against its latest young hero, at just the moment that Hamilton’s form returns.
The addition of Schumacher to the grid will spice things up in an already lively championship. With both Ferrari and Mclaren appearing to find a modicum of form, Brawn GP look set to be the biggest losers. They are already struggling to score points as their title rivals Red Bull chalk up podiums aplenty. Assuming Alonso can stay on the track, they will now line up on a grid that has yielded 11 world championship titles. Such a lineup has not been seen since the stellar days of the early 90s, when Senna, Mansell, Piquet, Prost, Hakkinen and Schumacher all raced in one season.
One of the criticisms of Schumacher’s career is that, aside from Hakkinen, he rarely found sufficient challenge to his dominance. He shall certainly have it now. Stepping into a car that, owing to the new ban on in-season testing, he will not so much has driven to the shops in, he will have to adjust fast. Come first practice he will not have touched the machine since pre-season testing, when it was a different (and altogether slower) beast entirely. His motorbike crash-induced neck injury will leave him vulnerable to the incredible G-force that Formula One cars produce. His age will leave his synapses firing fractionally slower, his sight not quite as razor sharp as it once was. Added to this, he will have the precocious talent of Lewis Hamilton to deal with – the student who should desperately love to best the old master.
The race may yet be a torpid affair. Such is the fickle nature of Formula One. Schumacher might go off at turn one, or his Ferrari might prove a turkey of a car after all. He might, shock horror, simply not be up to the challenge. But as those glittering machines line up for Saturday’s qualifying, the pleasure of seeing the legend drive a Ferrari one more time will be reward enough.
Now, do EasyJet fly to Valencia?