BMW out, Michael Schumacher in!

Even though Formula 1 is supposed to be having a 4 week break, there are a number of major issues happening. The best news is that Massa is recovering well and he conducted an interview with Ferrari on Monday (story).

The shocking news on Wednesday last week that BMW is departing Formula 1 (story) was almost negated by the news that Michael Schumacher will make a comeback and replace Felipe Massa (story). Then over the weekend, the good news that a new Concorde Agreement has been signed (story). And the expected news that Nelson Piquet has been axed by his Renault team (story).

BMW – as all the other car manufacturers – are having a tough time with poor financial results and that is putting huge pressure to cut expenditure and an F1 programme is both very expensive and very high profile and would be an easy target. We saw that with Honda and now we are seeing it with BMW. What is unfortunate in BMW’s case is that unlike Honda, BMW have been doing very well in their first 3 years in Formula 1 and it was only this year when their results were worst than expected. The BMW team set an ambitious target since they decided to take a majority stake in the Sauber team, they have met their targets every year however this season their target was the most difficult and that was to challenge for the World Championship. BMW had a poor start to the season and the changes they did to the car during the season didn’t really give them the improvements they needed and so the BMW board decided to axe the program.
The FIA reacted quickly and blamed FOTA and their resistance to the budget cap for BMW’s exit (FIA statement), however they conveniently ignored the fact that introducing KERS was probably the most likely cause for BMW’s lack of pace and ulimately their exit from Formula 1.

BMW spent heavily on the technology and appeared to have also relied on it to give them an advantage. The other teams proposed delaying the introduction of KERS until 2010 but BMW being the most advanced developer of the technology at that time rejected the proposal. As we know now, KERS didn’t give BMW the advantage it hoped for, in fact only a few races into the season and BMW started to consider running their car without KERS. By now BMW were under enormous pressure to perform and anything they did was a bit too late.

It will be sad to see BMW go as they have shown a lot of promise and there was no doubt that they would have challenged for the championship in 2010 or 2011 at the latest.

Michael Schumacher made the surprise announcement that he will make a comeback and race in Formula 1 again as a replacement for Felipe Massa who was injured at the Hungarian Grand Prix (story). Michael Schumacher’s final race was the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix where he had an amazing race and will be remembered for a long time. His decision to make a comeback after nearly 3 years is certainly an interesting one. Michael doesn’t have to prove anything, after all he is the 7 time World Champion so why did he ? and why did Ferrari even ask him to race ? Ferrari have two test drivers for the team (Luca Badoer and Marc Gene) and standing in for an injured driver is part of their job so why choose Michael ? 
It makes a lot of commercial sense to everyone involved to have Michael back, there will be more fans attending the races, more merchandise sold and more viewers on TV.
Does Michael risk damaging his reputation ? Unlikley, if he doesn’t do well then it is expected as he has been away for nearly 3 years. In fact, his reputation could be significantly boosted if he does impress so long after he stopped racing. 

Ferrari requested from the other teams an exemption to allow Michael to test the F60 despite the testing ban. They have described the circumstances as exceptional and due to those cicrumstances they claim that Michael should be allowed to test. Indeed the circumstances are exceptional but does that warrant breaking the test ban so that Michael gets to test ? Certainly not! Why should Michael be allowed to test the car when the rules agreed by everyone dictate that no testing can be conducted. Sure the testing rules in my view are stupid (see my last blog post) but those are the rules. Jamie Alguersuari had no Formula 1 experience prior to his debut in Hungary and the driver to replace Nelson Piquet (most likley to be Romain Grosjean) will have no Formula 1 experience either. Michael on the other hand has and while he stopped racing at the end of 2006, he actually conducted some tests for Ferrari in 2007 and most recently in 2008 when he tested a modified F2008 fitted with 2009 Bridgestone slick tryes and the car had downforce levels similar to those of this year. If a rookie can’t test then Michael certainly shouldn’t be allowed to test.

In addition, the team already has 2 test drivers and so with the testing ban in place, what are the responsibilities of those two drivers if they cannot race in case one of the regular drivers gets injured or sick ? Had Massa’s accident occured on the Friday then Gene or Badoer would have raced in Hungary and beyond!

It won’t be easy for Michael as he has been away for so long and he hasn’t driven the F60 at all so there is learning curve ahead of him but he is positioned better than any new driver coming into F1 and should be able to adjust fairly quickly. Play by the rules, there is no need for the controversy and let your fans enjoy your comeback.

Will he be able to match Kimi Raikkonen ? Not likely in Valencia but if Massa isn’t back soon then it will be an interesting duel between those two.

Finally a best wishes message to both Sebastien Bourdais and Nelson Piquet. While they didn’t deliver, both had tough times and they do deserve a second chance. Hopefully we could still see both in Formula 1 next year.

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