Formula One team recruit Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi as 2010 driver.
|The deal reunites Schumacher with old boss Ross Brawn [GALLO/GETTY]|
Seven-times Formula One champion Michael Schumacher has come out of retirement to drive for Mercedes in the 2010 Formula One season and has set his sights on an unprecedented eighth title.
The 40-year-old German, who won five championships for Ferrari and two with Benetton – forerunner of the Renault team – was supported by Mercedes in the early part of his career.
He was close to a temporary comeback in 2009 to fill in for the injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari – where he has been employed as a consultant – but had to call that off due to the lingering effects of a neck injury sustained in a motorcycle accident.
“Our aim can only be to fight for the championship,” said Schumacher in a conference call after signing the contract with Mercedes.
“Three years of absence gave back all the energy that I’m feeling right now.”
“I feel ready for some serious stuff.”
“I still feel absolutely on the edge. It’s thrilling and exciting. I believe I can be absolutely competitive.”
“We are talking about a three-year deal, it’s not just a one-off thing,” said the former Ferrari ace of a contract that had been expected to be for just one year.
“We are looking for continuation.”
Schumacher will earn $10 million, according to media reports, in what would be an all-German line-up.
Mercedes, who have taken over champions Brawn, have signed Nico Rosberg as their other driver for 2010.
A move to Mercedes would reunite him with team principal Ross Brawn, who was part of each of Schumacher’s record seven titles and 91 race wins.
“I am happy to be able to give something back that Mercedes gave in the early days,” Schumacher said.
Mercedes took over the Brawn GP team that won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in its first season in 2009, having picked up the remnants of the Honda team when the Japanese car maker pulled out of the sport.
It will also take Schumacher’s career full circle, since the German drove for the Mercedes sportscar team before breaking into Formula One with Jordan in 1991.
Since his retirement the German has worked as a consultant for Ferrari, but the Italian team has said that is not a binding agreement.
|Team mate Nico Rosberg will be driving in the shadow of F1’s greatest driver [GALLO/GETTY]|
Nico Rosberg had welcomed reports that Schumacher would likely be named as his Mercedes teammate for next season, but had warned the former world champion will have a difficult task to make his comeback successful.
Rosberg, signed as a potential No.1 driver for Mercedes, will find himself cast into Schumacher’s shadow in the all-German combination, but still welcomed the boon to the sport by a comeback by its greatest ever driver.
Rosberg said it would be “fantastic” to have Schumacher as his new teammate.
“It’s a great challenge for me to be up against one of the best drivers of all time,” he said.
“I’m sure that we will form a very strong partnership as he will have lost none of his speed.”
Former champions Damon Hill, Schumacher’s rival in the 1990s, and Nigel Mansell have both said that age will be no impediment and that the German could return as a winner.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Michael challenged for another world championship,” Britain’s 1992 champion Mansell, who won his title aged 39 and competed in Formula One until the age of 41, said at the weekend.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are as long as you are professional, committed and focused,” added the Briton.
“For me there is no downside to this. He’s won enough titles, so what does he have to worry about losing to anyone?
“It may take a few races to get to grips with his car, but after that it wouldn’t surprise me if he was to challenge for his eighth title”
Former world champion Nigel Mansell
“It may take a few races to get to grips with his car, but after that it wouldn’t surprise me if he was to challenge for his eighth title.”
Schumacher’s return will allow 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, who entered the sport only after Schumacher retired, to measure himself against Formula One’s most successful driver while also setting up an intriguing Anglo-German battle.
Hamilton and 2009 champion and compatriot Jenson Button will form an all-English pairing at rivals McLaren, who will still be powered by Mercedes engines.
There will also be a battle of the generations, with Schumacher lining up on a starting grid likely to include at least one driver half his age.
Mercedes chief executive Nick Fry said earlier this month that a Schumacher comeback would be good for the sport:
“It’s a human interest story of someone who is 40 years old coming back to race … it would be amazing,” he said.
“Can someone (win the championship) at that age? Absolutely.”
The sport’s oldest champion remains the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, who took his fifth title at the age of 46. The oldest driver to win a grand prix is Italian Luigi Fagioli in 1951 at the age of 53.