Is Michael Schumacher's Mercedes Signing a Risk Worth Taking?

James BroomheadAnalyst IDecember 23, 2009

BRACKLEY, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 23:  In this handout image provided by Mercedes GP, Michael Schumacher poses on December 23, 2009 in Brackley, England. The Mercedes GP Petronas Formula One team have confirmed that 7-times Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher will make his racing return in 2010 with the Silver Arrows team.  (Photo by Mercedes GP via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

Mercedes Grand Prix have scored a major PR coup. The signing of Michael Schumacher as a driver in 2010 has the whole world talking, typing, ranting, and raving.

Ross Brawn, Nick Fry, Mercedes, and the entire team have taken a calculated risk, bringing the sport's de facto most successful driver ever back from retirement to try to add to his trophy cabinet.

When Schumacher retired with his position in the racing pantheon secured, he went out on a comparative high, considering many champions in other sports have prolonged their career to the point where their failures are as memorable as their glories.

His career had spanned a number of seasons most driver would bite your hands off for, and his number of wins and titles would be desirable to anyone who's ever sat in a cockpit.

So why has he come back?

Quite frankly, I think the man can't live without competition.

He's a perennial fixture at the Race of Champions, a regular at charity karting events, and has even turned his sights to motorcycle racing, where his previous comeback was thwarted by a neck injury.

But he also doesn't like losing.

What? You want evidence? Adelaide 1994, Jerex 1997, his personal parking bay at La Rascasse. You might even argue that the comparatively ordinary performance of last year's Ferrari was the real reason why he will return next year, rather than this year.

That's where the risk comes in.

What if Michael returns to the 2010 grid and finds he can't quite cut it?

In all fairness to his competition, the depth of the field was very shallow during many of his dominant years, which was not helped out by Ferrari's engineering superiority, as the only man often capable of beating him was his No. 2—a very definite No. 2.

Now we have Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, and Felipe Massa, plus many other drivers (most notably Schumacher's new teammate, Nico Rosberg) all very capable of challenging for a win or even a title.

That's where the calculation of the risk comes in. By joining Mercedes, Schumacher joins a team you might expect to have the biggest head start for 2010. But the end of refuelling could easily mix the grid up, just like the raft of aerodynamic changes did for 2009.

No matter how good a team was this year, it's not a simple evolution to 2010. Teams have to account for the extra bulk of a bigger fuel tank. One wrong move and any hope of a title is gone. Just ask McLaren.

What if Schumacher and Mercedes aren't immediately challenging for wins? Even worse, what if Schumacher isn't challenging for wins and Rosberg, the seven-time World Champion, finds himself having to pull over for his teammate as the legend is lapped race after race?

Would Schumacher be above quitting midseason if everything doesn't seem to be working the way he hoped?

Of course, we won't know how the cars and drivers perform relative to each other until the first preseason tests or even the qualifying session for Bahrain.

But the wait for that day just got much more interesting.


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