On Schumacher’s “Unretirement”: we can’t miss you if you never left

“Don’t call it a comeback

I been here for years

Rockin my peers

and puttin suckas in fear.”

- LL Kool J

The Michael-to-Mercedes rumors will not die.

There are stories, we think exaggerated, of Mercedes throwing €7 million at Schumacher.  Given Mercedes’ unwillingness to pay such sums to world champion Jenson Button, we question the veracity of the amounts involved.  What we cannot question is the seven-time world champion’s hunger for a spot on the 2010 grid.  Of course, Schumacher’s desire became evident as soon as Felipe Massa got up close and personal with an errant spring.

Prior to this, the worst-kept secret in F1 was the fact that Ferrari “retired” from the business of Michael Schumacher, not the other way around.  It was obvious to everyone that Schumacher’s depature from Ferrari was intended to free up space at Ferrari for Kimi Raikkonen.  Since retiring, Michael hasn’t strayed far from the paddock, a fact not lost on the now-departed Raikkonen.  We think Michael’s  hovering in the wings was something Kimi could not tolerate, and we fault Ferrari for putting a world champion (Kimi) in such a situation in the first place.   The cord should have been cut; it was not, and now Kimi is gone and Michael may also be leaving.  Nicely done Luca.  As Edward Gorman noted in the Times (online), Mercedes’ own strategy may be the product of a collosal mistake in letting Button go.

Having said that, we hope Michael will keep his driving gloves on the shelf.  Comebacks rarely inspire and usually leave us wishing that our heroes had stayed in bed that day.  There is nothing more sad than athlete who is past his prime but still needs one more shot at glory.

Racing history is littered with ugly comebacks, although there are a few bright spots.  The notable exception in racing is Niki Lauda’s return to McLaren (1984 title), and Alain Prost’s return from sabbatical (1993 title).  Others have fared worse.  Stirling Moss made an ill-fated attempt at touring cars for Audi in 1980.  It left the legendary British driver looking slightly diminished, having been soundly thrashed by his teammate, Martin Brundle.  Some comebacks weren’t made to happen.

Outside of racing, comebacks become pathetic.  We did not need to see Muhammad Ali fighting his way into a brain injury.  In America, football is littered with quarterbacks who played one quarter too many (Namath, Montana, and Unitas spring to mind).  We have seen David Beckham spend the twilight of his career in Hollywood.  He is richer for it, but his stature is, inevitably, diminished.

So we don’t want Michael back at all.  Not because we never loved him, but because we want to love him as he was, a man of his day and his time, not a 41-year-old two years away from his last competitive race.  We want to retain that image, frozen in our mind’s eye, of a man who leapt for joy with each victory.  A driver who was ruthless and fearsome in his day. A seven-times world champion who stood on the top step of the podium more than any other driver.

Of course, the irony is that what makes men like Schumacher into champions is the same thing that keeps them from hanging it up.   T’was ever thus…..

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