Michael Schumacher is raring to go racing again, and the rest of Formula One is just as keen to have him back. One of four world champions on what promises to be the most competitive starting grid in years when the action starts in Bahrain on Sunday, the 41-year-old German has come out of retirement to test himself against a new crop of talent.
It has all the makings of a classic clash but the former Red Baron will still have his work cut out to kick off his comeback with an immediate win for the ‘Silver Arrows’, the first Mercedes works team since 1955. Sunday will be his first race since 2006 and first against hot-shot compatriot Sebastian Vettel and 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, as well as a renewal of combat with old foes Fernando Alonso and new champion Jenson Button.
It will be Germany against Britain, young guns against an old master with plenty of other subplots written in. Commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone is already rubbing his hands in anticipation.
“When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty. Now they are totally recharged and I am ready for the challenge,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher won with Ferrari at Sakhir in 2004, and his lap record will stand the test of time now that the circuit has been lengthened since last year, but that will count for little now.
Button, who has joined Hamilton at McLaren in what is the sport’s first pairing of champions since Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the same team in 1989, has looked relaxed pre-season with his move from title-winners Brawn GP. He also faces a big challenge in a team that has appeared moulded around Hamilton but he too is up for it.
Ferrari, with Spaniard Alonso eager to assume the starring role Schumacher once had and Brazilian Felipe Massa returning from his serious head injury, have looked strong in testing. The Italian team, who had what amounts to a nightmare for them last season, have been sounding a cautious note however.
Seven of the drivers in the four top teams are race winners and all can consider themselves genuine championship contenders.Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel who came into the sport after Schumacher retired with the nickname “Baby Schumi”, is one of them after ending last year as overall runner-up. His team are also going for their fourth race win in a row.
The ban on refuelling adds an extra strategic dimension while new teams, including the revived Lotus marque, have brought new faces. Among them is Brazilian Bruno Senna, nephew of the late triple champion Ayrton, who makes his debut with the Spanish HRT team along with Indian Karun Chandhok. Both will have a baptism of fire in a car put together against a tight deadline and shipped to Bahrain without even the most basic of tests