'Alright boys, I'll fill in for the lad'
Imagine, if you will, that there is a rock band. They are a bunch of hardcore, fine musicians with a phenomenal worldwide following, except that this is a year the press is focussing more on their scandals and lesser on their music -- and its fair to say that their latest CDs aren't their finest work, even though they're using admirably younger lead vocalists.
Imagine, then, that there is a horrific on-stage tragedy, and their much loved Brazilian guitarist is hurt during dress rehearsal, one day before a concert in Hungary. The band soldiers on without their youthful and spirited comrade while they wait to learn of his condition, and are told he can't play for the rest of the year -- but that doctors think he'll be fine.
The band -- and, indeed, their fans worldwide -- are relieved that the Brazilian shall be okay, but what next? The tour must go on and seven dates must be played, and they need another guitarist to pick up his bright scarlet Stratocaster...
Imagine, then, that a curly haired silhouette walks in the door and says, "Alright boys, I'll fill in for the lad. Loved him always."
The band's jaw drops in unison -- appropriate enough for a band where all the boys look alike -- and they have to step over ecstatically fainted organisers to reach the man and hand him the guitar. They speak to him with hushed reverence, some jealous but all invariably awestruck, saying, "Here you go, Mr Hendrix."
Yeah, it's that big. Imagine that.
Image: Michael Schumacher
Felipe Massa, praise the Lord, is doing much better. By the time you read this, he shall be out of intensive care. His recovery is going very well and he is responding very positively to all his treatments. Needless to say, all our prayers are with the Brazilian and -- forget Formula One for the moment -- we wish he is soon back with his family, with his wife Anna Rafaela, expecting a son in November this year.
The 28-year-old is a meteoric racer, old-world in both his inconsistent errata as well as his startling bursts of sheer excellence putting other more conventionally heralded drivers to shame.
And as Ferrari have said, his car will be waiting for him whenever he's ready.
Godspeed, Felipe. Forza.
Image: Felipe Massa
Schumi's back, baby!
Over the last few days, as the sporting papers have been dominated by the inevitable will-he/won't-he gossip about Felipe's German replacement, I was discussing with a friend how he perhaps shouldn't come back, after all.
The car isn't yet at the front of the grid, he hasn't raced this year's beast at all, and there's always the question of muddying up his legacy. Also, he's forty years old, and a comeback -- even with his much-vaunted and now legendary fitness levels -- is absolutely insane, no question about it. I buried the fanatic beneath the pragmatic and, I confess, hoped Robert Kubica or someone could fill Massa's shoes, anyone but him.
Yet when the greatest driver in the history of the wheel says that he indeed will race, you shove cynicism out the window and blare up the heralds. He's back, baby. Michael Schumacher will race a Ferrari again.
Image: Michael Schumacher
Schumacher has returned for loyalty
Michael has returned, he says, for loyalty. Felipe Massa was his last team-mate, and when Michael exited motorsport at the end of the 2006 season, it was not just because he felt he was done but also because he knew Ferrari had hired Kimi Raikkonen and if he had stayed another year, Felipe's career would have been put on hold for a year, a move that would have disastrous consequences for the Brazilian's career.
This is a time Massa, unexpectedly and tragically incapacitated, needs someone to step into his race car but he would rather it be someone who doesn't usurp his seat -- he is a sportsman, and more than half the motivation for a rapid convalescence is born out of the desire to be back at the front, fighting for the chequered flag -- and Michael is filling in, nothing more. Because Massa needs him now.
Just a few excruciatingly long days ago, Fernando Alonso was calling this "the worst season in Formula One's history," speaking about how the politics inherent in the FIA and the threat of a breakaway series has completely undermined the sport itself, and how nobody seemed to care what was happening on the track any more.
It is hard not to agree with him, and this year -- with all the negotiations and renegotiation, the driver firing and the public mudslinging -- really does need rejuvenation. And who better to bring back the eyes to the track than the winningest racecar driver in history?
If the sport ever needed Michael Schumacher to bring back the faith and the purists, it is now.
Image: Michael Schumacher (right) with Felipe Massa
No pressure on Schumacher
The idea of Michael, 40, sharing the grid with Jaime Alguesari, 19, is fascinating.
This generation's new dogfighters, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel haven't competed against the legend at all, and they'd be itching to prove their game. Hamilton would give a right arm to impressively overtake the maestro himself, while a wet race between Vettel -- considered best of show in the rain in the current crop -- and Schumacher, the genuine Regenmeister himself would be the stuff fantasies are made of. And some more Schumi-Alonso duelling, the master versus the young turk that beat him twice? Wow.
And there is great comfort to be found in the fact that the championship is being fought by Brawn GP and Red Bull, and that Ferrari are not in the hunt. Loosely translated this means there is absolutely no pressure on Michael to race for points, so he can take a couple of races to warm up and then choose merely to fly and fight for impossible victories.
This also means Schumacher should be all warmed up by the time the Italian Grand Prix rolls around at Monza. Just imagine that grandstand-shaking roar.
Play it again, Schu. We've missed you.
Image: Michael Schumacher (right) with Fernando Alonso