Formula 1: Schumacher: The second coming
With so many plots and sub-plots, the 2010 F1 season will be a cracker. David Kennedy can't wait
Published 07/03/2010 | 05:00
T he 2010 Formula One season kicks off in Bahrain next weekend and everyone is invited to the festivities. Whether you go in person or sit in your favourite armchair and watch it on television, you cannot miss the opening race because it promises great things, the likes of which we haven't seen for years.
You could say there are bridal overtones to this season's line-up. There's something old (Michael Schumacher's return), something new (three additional teams), something borrowed (mega bucks to fund them) and something blue (Team USGP who never made it to the grid).
The groom as usual is the indefatigable Bernie Ecclestone who turns a sprightly 80 this year. He's showing no signs of slowing down. The pre-nups are in place, the dowries have been paid and Bernie will head to Bahrain for the honeymoon and a new world that shares his vision.
But the big story is the second coming of Michael Schumacher. Will he be fastest or is he past it? Can he make it eight or has he left it too late?
In 2006, Schumacher did the smartest thing a man with seven World Championships to his name could have done: he retired from the sport while his legs were still attached to his arse.
But he didn't don long shorts and braces and meander around the Swiss Alps yodelling. No, he was gainfully employed by Ferrari to sprinkle some magic dust around the team in an effort to recreate the halcyon days when he was in the hot seat.
Ferrari didn't fare too badly. Kimi Raikkonen won the title in 2007 and Felipe Massa missed it by a single point in 2008. But watching from the pit wall must have been torture for Schumacher.
He sought some respite racing super-bikes but it didn't fill the void. Last season he attempted a comeback when he was supposed to replace the injured Massa, but that didn't materialise because a bike injury he sustained hadn't healed.
But he finally got to scratch that F1 itch and late last year he announced the signing of a three-year contract with Mercedes. The unretired Schumacher at 41 years of age returns as the grand fromage, the grand prix great, and now the grand-daddy of the grid. Isn't life grand?
Speculation will give way to revelation as we follow his progress. How he will fare pitched for the first time against his fellow countryman Sebastien Vettel or Lewis Hamilton? Nobody making a comeback will be better prepared than Schumacher. This isn't about money, this isn't about glory. It's about settling a score with those who came later. He is persecuting the young and in his breast the sound of victory beats.
It was once said that Pablo Picasso was not allowed to roam an art gallery unattended for he had a tendency to improve his old masterpieces. Schumacher is roaming F1 trying to improve on his unbeaten, and some say unbeatable, record. Those who seek to even come close to his legacy can only look on in despair.
The other big story will focus on the Battle of the Brits: Hamilton verses Button. Former world champion against current world champion. It will be bare-knuckle fighting under Nomex gloves. Reputations and egos will land with a splatter. Personally, I think it was a match made in a moment of madness by a maniac. I anticipate a spectacular fall from grace for Button, but that's just an opinion.
The best part of the opening race is the unfurling of the clever tricks and tweaks that teams deploy in pursuit of excellence. The ones that will get their car working best on low and high fuel loads will triumph.
McLaren's rear wing is already causing consternation with Ferrari and Red Bull requesting legal clarification. The layout of its airbox and engine cover was helping to stall the rear-wing at high-speed and delivering the car extra straight-line performance. McLaren say it's kosher.
There's plenty to keep our interest in terms of new regulations, new drivers coming in, new teams with more hope than cash, redundant drivers loitering trying to pick up drives, the re-fuelling ban, and a new points system to spice things up.
Lighter fuel loads will make a dramatic difference to qualifying. There will be as much bragging rights to clinching pole as there will be to winning a race. And for the first time race pace will be as important as qualifying pace.
The Bahrain circuit will incorporate an extra loop between turns four and five. Last season saw Button take victory thanks to Brawn's early aerodynamic advantage with their double-diffuser. Vettel was runner-up for Red Bull and Jarno Trulli -- who had taken pole -- finished third in his Toyota.
It's all systems go as the world of F1 prepare to do battle. It is a solitary sport no matter who you befriend inside its hallowed walls. The Arabs have a saying -- 'Live together like brothers and do business like strangers' -- that pretty much sums up the weird and wonderful world of Formula One.
David Kennedy is Setanta's F1 analyst