The motto for this season’s Formula One season is clear: “Schumi is back!” Under normal circumstances, world champion Jenson Button’s move to McLaren, where he joins up with his predecessor Lewis Hamilton, or Fernando Alonso signing with Ferrari would have been huge, with headlines galore.
But then, of course, these are not normal circumstances.
1,239 days after competing in his last race, the German is poised to make his comeback — hoping to achieve an eighth world championship with his Team Germany, as Mercedes could well be called.
However, it will not be easy, as all other teams will be chasing the retirement returnee.
Last year’s runner-up, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who was a great Schumacher fan during his youth is keen to show his compatriot that the present belongs to the young, while Ferrari are hoping to prove that their dynamic duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are the men to beat.
McLaren, meanwhile, who will be a team on their own this season although their engines will continue to be supplied by Mercedes, have the two last world champions driving for them and are looking for a better season than last year.
A number of superlatives will make their first appearance at the showpiece of motorsport: four current drivers have a total of 11 championships between them and for the first time-ever, 26 drivers belonging to 13 teams are supposed to be racing.
The cars are longer and already jokes are being made about stretch limousines. But anybody who thinks that the races will be a ride in the park is very wrong: The cars are not allowed to refuel, thus the petrol tanks have to be bigger.
The season will consist of 19 races, which is two more than last season, with South Korea being new on the calendar and the Canadian Grand Prix returning in Montreal.
But all of that is secondary.
Alone the presentation of the new Mercedes in Valencia and the first laps Schumacher drove in the car brought some 300 journalists from all over the world to Spain.
Demand for tickets to the races increased tremendously after Schumacher’s announcement of his return in December and the TV stations lucky enough to have secured Grand Prix rights rubbed their hands in anticipation of ratings.
Also smiling was Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who is hoping that Schumacher’s return will gloss over all the negative headlines the sport endured in the passed few seasons. “It is fantastic,” Ecclestone said about the return of the 41-year-old German.
Also smiling were most of the young drivers, many of whom idolized Schumacher as they were growing up and now suddenly find themselves in a position to race against him.
“I will certainly not look into the rear-view mirror and pull over every time I see Michael to let him past,” Vettel said.
The 22-year-old, who is Ecclestone’s favourite for the title this year, could prepare himself for the forthcoming season out of the limelight — something he enjoyed.
Unlike Vettel, another German who is being considered as a potential champion, Nico Rosberg, does not have the luxury of being able to keep out of the Schumacher spot-light.
The son of former world champion Keke Rosberg is Schumacher’s team-mate at Mercedes and needs to accept whatever role he is given by the team.
Although — officially — there is no ranking within the team, it seems unlikely that a driver with 91 Grand Prix victories and seven championships will play second fiddle to a driver who has yet to taste victory in 70 Grand Prix races.
How many competitors Schumacher will face in his first race for Mercedes in Bahrain remains to be seen. Richard Branson’s billions have secured the Virgin team and Lotus also seems to be a certain starter.
The situation pertaining to the other two new teams — USF1 and Campos — is much more doubtful. The American team is without a car and has no money and their only driver is on the verge of joining the similarly doubtful Campos team.
Both teams have yet to conduct any tests, prompting a Serbian team called StefanGP to ship some parts to Bahrain in the hope of joining the circuit at last minute.
So even though plenty of question marks remain about the new season — who really cares? The only thing that matters is: Schumi is back!