The Formula 1 world has been given a welcome new lease of life to bring it out of the politics and into the actual racing with the return of arguably the greatest driver of all time, Michael Schumacher.
Much has been said about the German’s return to replace the injured Felipe Massa, with impending comparisons to other drivers providing a main focal point for discussion.
The competition will undoubtedly be an intense and electrifying spectacle as Schumacher aims to recreate his former glories. It is his reluctance to disassociate himself from a competitive career in switching to the two wheels of a motorbike that gives us an optimistic impression that he will be as up for a battle as ever before.
So who are his most important opponents, and what will they have to offer on track for the returning champion?
To state the obvious, Brawn and Button crashed into Formula 1 in 2009 with such incredible force that they eclipsed the rest of the competition and elevated themselves to legendary rookie status. Never before had a team burst onto the scene in such flawless fashion. They took absolute control.
However Button has not always been a proven driver and indeed spent many years in the doldrums of the sport, facing for the majority of his time on track with the uncertainty of his future career.
Now that he has the car beneath him that he always wanted, bar the last three races, Button’s confidence and performance levels have seemingly soared.
The important question though, is can Jenson continue to portray this vastly improved performance against a driver of Schumacher’s experienced caliber.
Especially when considering that Schumacher’s total dominance of the sport can be seen as one of the essential reasons that Button was never allowed to be seen as a title challenger.
Of all the contenders to Schumacher’s crown since the German’s retirement Button sadly can be said to have been the weakest of the lot when you consider the likes of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, all of whom proved their worth very early on in their respective careers and triumphs.
The hope with the Englishman is that after the many years of facing turmoil and frustrations in unflattering cars, his consistent level of ability this season will continue to flourish, allowing him to benefit prosperously from the peak of his career.
Jenson Button vs. Michael Schumacher is not a battle we have seen much of before, but perhaps that is what makes it the most exciting prospective battle. Jenson is a slick and controlled performer, a complete contradiction to Schumacher’s sometimes risky and amazingly aggressive approach.
We really are dealing with the depths of the unknown when considering this likely battle, yet it is something that many will relish the thought of as a result.
One of Lewis Hamilton’s widely pronounced regrets is that he never had the opportunity to compete against the greatest driver ever to grace a Formula 1 track. Now that regret will be dealt with accordingly, as his dream comes true.
Hamilton’s praise worthy and commanding victory in Hungary not only reinstated his claim to being a world class driver, but also gave us a glimpse of the spirited youngster that the racing world fell for in his first two seasons at the pinnacle of the sport.
Such a performance warrants obvious interest from the media, who are thoroughly keen to see Schumacher take on the newer generation of superstars such as Vettel, Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton himself.
And providing the Mclaren driver can extend the period of renewed promise seen in Hungary we may well have an all mighty on track fight on our hands.
Certainly with Alonso in an incapable car Hamilton provides the closest glimpse to a former champion giving another former champion a run for his money. Out of the whole field Hamilton seems the likeliest of proven champions to provide the most exciting challenge.
During the majority of his racing career Michael Schumacher was always his teams’ number one driver. From his first title win onwards he was never provided with the challenge of driving alongside another title winner, and as such was afforded many luxuries. Such luxuries extended mainly to team orders as every one of his team mates was given the supporting role of improving Michaels’ title credentials if it was deemed necessary.
Now however Schumacher returns to the team who gave him his last five titles where he faces the unusual circumstance of teaming up with another former champion.
It has been somewhat of an up and down career for Kimi Raikkonen so far. His early seasons in Sauber stood him in good stead for a Mclaren drive, where after a year or two as the weaker driver to David Coulthard he took charge and became the number one driver.
It was then in his first season at Ferrari that he was deservedly crowned champion in a dramatic finale, but since he has suffered a post title winning season and a half where standout performances have been few and far between. He has also made uncharacteristic mistakes on various occasions, most notably in Spa last year where he threw it off the track under absolutely no pressure whatsoever.
The strength of his second place finish in Hungary does give some hope that Kimi can produce similarly strong performances towards the end of the season, and he will of course be pressured into such performance at the idea of having Schumacher as a team mate until the end of the season.
Early practice and qualifying sessions in the Grand Prix of Valencia will be a large indicator as to whether Kimi will be out of his comfort zone against the German, or whether he can prove a point to his constant critics by outpacing the seven times champion.
Of all of his returning competitors Kimi is probably the most unpredictable for Michael Schumacher to comprehend. This is mainly in part due to the Finnish drivers’ inability to back up his world championship title with equally talented drives.
Optimistically we would hope that such an opportunity for the Fin will force him into producing the talent and on track spectacles that we know Raikkonen is capable of, otherwise it could signal the end of his title winning opportunities.
Michael would loved to have exited the sport in October 2006 as a world champion, but sadly it was not to be as Fernando Alonso etched his name into the history books for a second time with such a passionate and inspired drive throughout the course of the season.
His talent was even more inspirational due to the fact that he conquered Michael Schumacher in a season where the German was not necessarily losing any of the tenacity and drive that allowed him to break so many records on track in his final season.
But for any driver who retires from the sport, they can comfort themselves in the afterthought that their peak performance fitness levels and focused concentration will never have to reach such perfected heights again. They can afford the liberty of letting go and ease into middle age territory, reflecting on their sensational careers.
Schumacher’s return to the sport therefore has led many in and around the sport to point out that both Schumacher’s fitness and concentration levels will not be as they once were.
Obviously with such a dominating record that Schumacher displayed on track however, he managed to for the most part be one step ahead of his competition in both stamina and skill. So possibly his reduced level in both areas will only put him on a level field with his newest competitors as opposed to leaving him behind to catch up.
This is therefore something that will provide the most interesting of battles that Michael will face. How close can he perform in comparison to his former self?
It is too much to predict that Schumacher will return to the action and take the bull by the horns instantaneously. It is very unlikely for one that he would achieve comfortable victories from the outset. Such an event happening would be a massive surprise for all to witness. However with such a glorious history that the German possesses, most expect a handful of points finishes and podiums to accompany his return. It just may take a Grand Prix or two to reignite.