Record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher will sensationally return to the grid with Mercedes Grand Prix in 2010 – that is the expert view of BBC pundit Eddie Jordan, the man who first gave the German his break in the top flight almost two decades ago.
Following the announcement that recently-crowned 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button has jumped ship from Brawn GP – now Mercedes Grand Prix, following the Stuttgart manufacturer’s majority buy-in – to partner compatriot and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes from next season onwards, the Brackley-based outfit has two seats to fill.
With 2007 world champion and Ferrari evictee Kimi Raikkonen having ruled himself out of the running [see separate story – click here], it has been widely surmised that Mercedes’ target is to employ two homegrown stars in an all-German ‘super team’ to rival McLaren’s all-British line-up. Ex-Williams F1 ace Nico Rosberg is all-but certain to be unveiled as one of the two, and experienced BMW-Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld had been mentioned in connection with the second cockpit, as had Robert Kubica should Renault pull the plug…until Schumacher’s name entered the frame.
Whilst speculation linking the 40-year-old to the team has been largely scorned – and downplayed by his official spokeswoman Sabine Kehm, who nonetheless conceded that it would be wise to ‘never say never’ [see separate story – click here] – it is undeniable that Schumacher’s failed comeback in place of injured former team-mate Felipe Massa earlier this year has re-whetted his appetite for the challenge, and Jordan reckons the lure of the competition is one that has proven too strong for the 91-time grand prix-winner to resist.
“The possibility is being actively pursued and I believe it is going to happen,” opined Jordan – who sold his own eponymously-named Jordan Grand Prix operation, with whom Schumacher made his celebrated F1 debut in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, to Midland in 2005 – in an interview with the BBC.
“It started with a meeting between Michael, Ross Brawn and Daimler chief executive officer Dieter Zetsche at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. At the moment, it is not possible for Michael to drive for Mercedes because he has a consultancy contract with Ferrari – but I understand he was due to meet Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo with a view to him being released, and that it will be approved because it is in the interests of F1. I believe that is being planned at the moment.
“I also believe Ross [Brawn – Mercedes Grand Prix team principal] and Michael have spoken in recent times, and that Michael likes the idea of driving a Mercedes run by Ross – it’s a mouth-watering idea. Schumacher was bitterly disappointed he didn’t get to come back to replace Massa – he’s keen to race again, and this is a dream for both parties.
“Michael and Mercedes go way back – he drove for their sportscar team before he raced in F1, and they were responsible for getting him into F1. They paid the then Jordan team to give him his debut in 1991. He has won all these titles but never driven in F1 for Mercedes.”
Mercedes is understood to be eager to secure Schumacher’s services on a one-year deal only, prior to prising young hot-shot Sebastian Vettel – a driver who some suggest could go on to at least partially emulate his countryman’s spectacular achievements in years to come – away from Red Bull Racing for 2011, when there will still be a season left to run on the 22-year-old’s current contract.
he move would also make sense in that Schumacher and Brawn collaborated together extremely successfully both at Benetton and Ferrari – with the Englishman brilliantly helping to engineer the Kerpen native to all seven of his drivers’ world crowns – and it was with Mercedes that the latter first shot to prominence in sportscar circles before making his name in F1.
What’s more, Schumacher’s neck injury – caused by a motorcycling fall at Cartagena in Spain back in February, and the sole stumbling block that dashed his hopes of taking Massa’s place in the summer – is expected to be healed by the end of the year, making it entirely feasible that the most successful driver in the history of the sport could return.
Though he recently renewed his contract with Ferrari, Schumacher’s ambassadorial duties are now focussed predominantly on road car development and testing, with no longer any active role inside the Scuderia’s F1 team.