x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Herbert: competition will be stiff

It may take him a little time to get back up to full speed but Schumacher is more than capable of recapturing his glory days, according to his former teammate.

It may take him a little time to get back up to full speed but Michael Schumacher is more than capable of recapturing his glory days and adding to his haul of seven world championships, according to his former teammate Johnny Herbert. The German's long anticipated return to Formula One was finally confirmed on Wednesday when a deal to race for Mercedes GP was agreed, reuniting him with Ross Brawn, the man with whom he won all his world titles.

Schumacher had competed in 250 races and won 91 times prior to hanging up his racing gloves at the end of the 2006 season, but the chance to work with the Mercedes GP team boss Brawn will have helped swing his decision to return, believes Herbert. The pair won the 1994 and 1995 drivers' titles with Benetton and then teamed up in dominant fashion at Ferrari as they won five championships in a row between 2000 and 2004.

Herbert, who was Schumacher's teammate at Benetton in 1995, said: "I suppose the way it has happened and where he has ended up is no surprise. "Michael's relationship with Ross Brawn has always been excellent and Ross has said many times he is the best driver he's ever seen or worked with. There is massive respect there; Michael won all his titles with Ross." Apart from some testing for Ferrari in 2007, one test in 2008 and one this year as he tested his fitness before a return to stand-in for the injured Felipe Massa was abandoned due to a neck injury, Schumacher's time behind the wheel has been minimal and Herbert believes this may be the reason behind why a three-year deal was penned for his comeback.

"Obviously the second factor is the might of Mercedes," added Herbert. "This is an opportunity for a German car to have a German world champion and the three-year deal makes perfect sense in that respect. "It will fit Michael's mindset too. He knows it possibly won't happen straight away; he's been out for three years and will need time to get back in the groove. "The one thing that could hurt Michael is the testing factor. In his time you could test 24 hours a day, but not anymore. He won't have that much time to prepare before the first race and he had all the time in the world before."

As for Schumacher's chances of winning more races and titles when the 2010 season begins in Bahrain in March, Herbert thinks it will ultimately be out of his hands and down to the Mercedes engineers making his car competitive. Another consideration will be how quickly they can make the first car to be raced under the Mercedes name since the German manufacturers took over the Brawn GP team last month.

"It will be very, very interesting and we might just see the old Schumacher return," he said. "He'll be up against a fresh challenge and it will be exciting to see him take on the younger guys. "Mercedes need to develop a car which Michael can take to the other teams. The new regulations for 2010 mean new cars and it depends on who puts together the best package. But everyone will be trying to up their game and it could well rest on the team who get the breaks."

The one factor that has most Formula One enthusiasts licking their lips with enthusiasm is the chance to see Schumacher race against the new crop of young stars in the sport. The 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton and this year's runner-up Sebastian Vettel never got the chance to compete with the most successful driver in the sport's history as both made their respective debuts in 2007. Herbert says watching Schumacher up against the new generation will be something to look forward to, but is also interested to see how his fellow German Nico Rosberg handles the pressure of being the second Mercedes driver, having joined the team from Williams in November.

"The sport has evolved and there has been a shift in drivers," said Herbert. "In Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel there are two young guns on the block and the game has moved on. The competition will be stiffer for Michael. "But it will be tough for Nico Rosberg too. He now has the mighty Michael Schumacher on his back and looking over his shoulders. But he's a tough cookie, he's young and mature and he'll handle it.

"All in all, it's fascinating to have Michael back and great for Formula One. I know Lewis was disappointed not to have got the chance to race him; he'll have that now." @Email:sports@thenational.ae