Michael Schumacher – The Winners and Losers
January 4, 2010
With the confirmation that Michael Schumacher will be returning to F1 in 2010, I wanted to start my 2010 blog by reflecting on the possible winners and losers from this amazing turn of events.
Formula 1: With four brand new teams, Button alongside Hamilton at McLaren and Alonso in a Ferrari, 2010 was already shaping up to be a classic F1 season. The return of Michael Schumacher adds another powerful ingredient to boost global interest in F1, it also revitalises interest in Germany which had been waning since his retirement. With the withdrawal of three car manufacturers in 2008/2009, new sponsors and investors are needed and this is the way to get them.
Mercedes: Having lost the number one on their first F1 car for over fifty years to McLaren, Mercedes have recaptured media interest and positive momentum behind their new team. Given the success of Brawn in 2009, they were unable to play the “we’re a new team playing ourselves in” card, and needed a big impact for their inaugural season, something they have now achieved in spades.
Rubens Barrichello: It is probably reasonable to speculate that had the management at Brawn realised that there was a real possibility of their losing Button to McLaren, they would have retained Rubens for 2010 to provide some continuity in the driver line up. If this had happened the revitalised Barrichello would have found himself, once again, playing the support role to Michael Schumacher, something that no competitive driver would want to do once, let alone twice in their career. As it turns out Rubens is now the undisputed lead driver at Williams, a position he has not enjoyed since his time at Stewart in the late nineties. So Rubens escaped being Michael’s number two for the second time and now finds himself lead driver with a team with an impressive pedigree and a real hunger to get back to the front of the grid.
Ferrari: Despite their dignified support for Michael’s return to F1, Ferrari must be deeply disappointed that they have lost their lifetime ambassador to their closest rival in terms of global luxury brands. It is clear that the Ferrari/Schumacher relationship will never be the same again, with Ferrari regarding Schumacher’s second career as something that is removed from his history at Ferrari. In a press briefing reported in Autosport.com President Luca di Montezemolo stated ‘What is important is that the real Michael was at Ferrari’. The irony of the situation is that it was Schumacher’s desire to help Ferrari following Filipe Massa’s accident that started the chain of events that led to his return.
Nico Rosberg: Nico has now moved from being the Number 1 at Williams to a clear number 2 at Mercedes. He would have been effectively in the same situation had Button remained, but the arrival of Michael to work with his old partner Ross Brawn and to renew his relationship with Mercedes will make Rosberg’s challenge of establishing himself as a potential champion increasingly difficult. Schumacher has a well earned reputation for requiring subservient team mates, and it will be interesting to see how this works out during the season. Will we see a situation where Nico is there simply to support Michael at all costs, including making use of his more recent knowledge of cars and circuits? Or will the previous Brawn approach of letting the drivers race each other be maintained? Either way Nico has an uphill struggle to establish himself as more than a ‘good’ F1 driver.
Winner or Loser?
But what about Michael himself? Will he be a winner or loser? This is very much an open question. Schumacher’s first race win was in 1992 and he won a grand prix in every subsequent year up to his retirement in 2006. Therefore anything less than a race win in 2010 could be deemed as a failure, with expectations running so high it is hard to see how anything less than being a major contender for the championship would be acceptable to Michael. The 2009 Brawn car was very good, but they made the decision early in 2008 to focus on the 2009 car, in 2009 they were fighting for the championship right until the penultimate race – so it is unlikely that the 2010 car would have had the same level of commitment as early in the season. So there are many uncertainties and pressures involved in his return, at best he will be as good as he was, at worst it will become a personal and reputational nightmare. What is certain is that Michael is prepared to take on these risks in order to race again, roll on 2010.