It has emerged that Schumacher was sounded out by team principal Ross Brawn in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago — underlining why Jenson Button, who left for McLaren on Wednesday, felt driven out by the putative all-German line-up of Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
It is understood that Brawn and Schumacher have remained in regular contact since, and that Schumacher could even agree terms in the next week.
Comeback king? Schumacher
Former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan, who witnessed the initial talks, went public with information confirmed by other sources, by saying: ‘The possibility is being actively pursued and I believe it is going to happen. 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.’
Schumacher was tempted to replace the injured Felipe Massa last season, only to withdraw because of a serious neck complaint. His willingness to return, for next to no money, was a gauge of how much he is missing his old life.
Yesterday his spokeswoman Sabine Kehm said: ‘I am aware of the speculation about the “possibilities” of Michael returning.
What I can say is that Michael enjoys his life and, therefore, I see those “possibilities” being unlikely at the moment.’
Unlikely — for the moment — but far from impossible. After all, 24 hours before he agreed to stand in for Massa, his manager ruled out a comeback ‘200 per cent’.
Joining Mercedes holds obvious attractions for all concerned. At a personal level, Schumacher was guided to all of his titles by Brawn during their associations at Benetton and Ferrari, and they remain close.
On a professional level, Schumacher was once part of the Mercedes young driver programme. The carmakers then tried to lure him back when they held a stake in McLaren. It is a sign of their affection for him as a German icon and a global brand. They know he would conclusively offset the flak they received for ‘losing’ Button, the world champion, earlier this week.
He would additionally bring practical benefits, not least as a role model and technical guru for Rosberg, 24, who is firmly believed to have signed for Mercedes already.
There are drawbacks, though. Schumacher might also have some explaining to do to his wife, Corinna, and their two young children.
Whereas filling in for Massa would only have been a short-term arrangement, Mercedes want to engage him for a full season. It takes a bigger commitment all round.
So, can his family save him from himself after three years in retirement?
Probably not. Would his neck even be mended enough? Possibly not, but he might be prepared to gamble on his health for another crack at his life-defining thrill.
As for money, it is unlikely to be a block. Sure, Mercedes say they are sticking to a strict budget but, with Schumacher having £500million in the bank, cash hardly counts.
At Mercedes Grand Prix yesterday, nobody would confirm that Schumacher is on their agenda. They do not wish to be rash at this delicate stage. Ditto in Stuttgart, home of the German marque, where silence prevailed.
It was left to Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s commercial supremo, to say: ‘It would be fabulous for the sport.’ You can bet he is bringing his vast influence to bear behind the scenes to make it happen. He knows the accounts would hardly be hurt by having the weltmeister back at the wheel.
For this observer, though, it is a bitter-sweet prospect. Who cannot be titillated by Schumacher up against McLaren’s British golden pairing of Button and Lewis Hamilton? And won’t it be fun to see him try for an eighth title?
But he will be 41 by the time the season starts. His neck is dicky. The car is far from a guaranteed magic carpet. Some of us would prefer to remember him at his peak, when he was peerless.