F1: Could Lewis Hamilton's Switch See Michael Schumacher Return to Ferrari?
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When Michael Schumacher's Ferrari engine blew up with 17 laps of the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix still remaining, his last chance to win the world championship in a Ferrari was blown with it.
Had Schumacher's engine held out, he would have left Japan with a two-point lead over Fernando Alonso going into a Brazilian Grand Prix where his Ferrari was the class of the field; as it transpired, he required a minor miracle to occur in Sao Paulo, when all he got was more unreliability.
Fast forward three years and Schumacher was set to step back into a Ferrari cockpit to replace the injured Felipe Massa. Injury for Michael put pay to that comeback attempt, but the situation kick-started a process which would eventually see the seven-time world champion return to the sport with Mercedes.
Now, a further three years on, Schumacher finds his future in Formula One questioned once again. When he left in 2006, it was—it later transpired—more because Ferrari wanted to replace him with Kimi Raikkonen than with Schumacher's lack of desire to stay in the sport. Now, if the rumours reported on BBC Sport are to be believed, Lewis Hamilton could be being brought in to replace the German at Mercedes for 2013.
But does the timing actually present Michael with an opportunity? Could this actually bring about a move to more competitive machinery?
Ferrari's Felipe Massa has not performed up to the team's expectations in 2012. As discussed here, the Brazilian has largely under-performed ever since his return from the serious injury that almost saw Schumacher step in during 2009, and it seems that Ferrari are unwilling to be patient much longer.
But which available drivers are qualified to replace Massa? As a winner of 11 grand prix, there aren't many currently in F1 with more race-winning experience. The only exception to this is Hamilton, but the British driver has history as a teammate of Ferrari golden boy Fernando Alonso, and neither the team nor Alonso would want a repeat of their bitter 2007 season.
But if Hamilton did oust Schumacher from Mercedes, then the most successful driver in the history of Formula One would suddenly become available. Could this be an option for the Scuderia?
The synergy of this arrangement would be quite incredible. Ferrari are widely believed to have some kind of "pre-contract" with Sebastien Vettel for 2014. The details of this are sketchy and varied, but a long-term view from the team sees Vettel teaming up with Alonso before succeeding him as their No. 1 man. Therefore, all they need for 2013 is someone to fill the void temporarily.
Meanwhile, at 43, Schumacher surely only has a few more seasons left in him. At the same time, his form since returning is getting stronger and stronger: He has outscored his young, race-winning, teammate, Nico Rosberg, in four of the last five races (unreliability accounting for the fifth); he set the fastest time (pole position in all but name) at this year's Monaco Grand Prix; and, if you analyse qualifying for the season and assign race points for qualifying positions, Schumacher is sixth, ahead of Rosberg and both Lotus cars.
Clearly, the old man of Formula One is still more than competitive.
What would be nice, not to mention fitting, for the most statistically successful driver in the history of the sport would be a farewell season—a last hurrah, if you will. What better place to do that than the team at which you secured a record five consecutive world titles?
The head of Ferrari, Luca diMontezemolo, has said that the Michael Schumacher that returned to the sport is not the one he knew—the implication being that he's not the same when in silver rather than red overalls. Why not bring the real one back for one more go?
Follow the writer on Twitter @RobertLewington.
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