The racing world was given a glimpse of former world champion Michael Schumacher in a Formula One car yesterday - his first appearance behind the wheel in nearly three years. Schumacher, 40, took a 2007 Ferrari around the team's Mugello test track in Italy as he prepared to return to the Grand Prix circuit. The German, who won the world championship seven times, was drafted by Ferrari to replace Felipe Massa, who was badly injured during last month's Hungarian Grand Prix. Schumacher is expected to make his return in August at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain.
This year's championship culminates in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, which has prompted excitement among F1 fans at the prospect of seeing Schumacher's last race before he goes back into retirement. Before getting behind the wheel, Schumacher spent a day at the Ferrari factory in Maranello, learning the controls of the 2009 model on a simulator. Under F1 rules, drivers are not allowed to test current cars, but the BBC reported yesterday that the F1 Teams Association would allow him to test the latest Ferrari for one day. The proposal still must be accepted by the FIA, the sport's governing body.
After driving the two-year-old model, Schumacher said: "The cars are not current, but I simply like to drive as much as possible. It was a good option. The next weeks are totally about preparation." He had organised the test drive to assess his physical condition, but also will need to become accustomed to untreaded slick tyres, which were reintroduced for this year's championship. Schumacher won five championships with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004 and holds the record for the most victories. He last won a race at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix. He has agreed to race with Ferrari until Massa is fit enough to return.
The Brazilian is expected to leave a hospital in Budapest on Monday and will be flown home on a private jet. Massa's injuries, which left him in intensive care for four days, included a fractured skull. * The National