Michael Schumacher's much- anticipated return to Formula One was called off yesterday as the German driver, 40, said injuries suffered in a motorbike accident earlier this year prevented him from racing in Grands Prix. The seven-time world champion was ready to step into a Ferrari again as a replacement for the injured Felipe Massa, the Brazilian who will not race again this season after suffering serious injuries in a crash during qualifying for last month's Hungarian Grand Prix.
His planned return was an exciting proposition, raising the prospect of him taking part in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 1. After a series of rigorous tests in preparation for the European Grand Prix, to be held in the Spanish city of Valencia on August 23, Schumacher said the effects of a neck injury were too severe for him to compete. "I really tried everything to make that temporary comeback possible. However, much to my regret it didn't work out," said Schumacher.
"Unfortunately we did not manage to get a grip on the pain in the neck which occurred after the private F1 day in Mugello, even if medically or therapeutically we tried everything possible. I am disappointed to the core. I am awfully sorry for the guys of Ferrari and for all the fans who crossed fingers for me. I can only repeat that I tried everything that was within my power." Mohammed ben Sulayem, the Emirati who is vice-president of sport for the FIA, was disappointed Schumacher could not return.
"It is a shame to hear that Michael has taken this decision. Everyone wants to see such a star and a hero return and it would have been fantastic to see him race again," he said. "But on the other hand we should also be happy to see that Felipe is recovering well, and maybe he will be back to race in Abu Dhabi. That would be great news." Luca Badoer will replace Schumacher for the Valencia race, 10 years after his last race in F1 when he drove for Minardi and retired early from the Japanese Grand Prix. At 38, Badoer will surpass Rubens Barrichello as the oldest driver in this season's championship, but in 48 previous starts he has yet to gain a point. The Italian has been a loyal employee at the Scuderia for a decade, since his Formula One career gently subsided into oblivion after 48 Grand Prix starts. He arrived in motor racing as the "next big thing", admired in Italy for his performances in karting and the lower formula series, but that won him a place in 1993 only in the chaotic BMS Scuderia Italia team. Two years later, he secured a seat at Italy's "second" team in Formula One - Minardi - but two seasons there, interspersed with a fruitless year at the Forti team, led him to Ferrari's test track. Badoer holds the dubious record for the most GP starts without collecting a single point. Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president, said Badoer deserves his chance after 12 years as a Ferrari test driver, although he was disappointed about Schumacher's news. He said: "I am very unhappy that a problem means that Michael cannot return to racing. In the past few days, I could appreciate his great efforts and extraordinary motivation which had spread through the team and fans around the world. "No doubt his return would have been good for Formula One and I am sure it would have seen him fighting for wins again. In agreement with [the team principle] Stefano Domenicali, we have therefore decided to give Luca Badoer the chance to race for the Scuderia after he has put in so many years of hard work as a test driver." Eddie Jordan, a former F1 team owner, said he too had been looking forward to seeing Schumacher against young talent like the reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. "We have been robbed because I wanted to see how he could cope with these young guys," he added. * With agencies