Drivers hail the return of Schumacher

Hamilton 'excited' by chance to compete against multiple former champion

Michael Schumacher's imminent return to Formula One has excited fellow drivers and fans alike around the world. The seven-times champion retired after the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2006, and last drove a Formula One car in anger in 2008, but he has been racing motorcycles until an accident in February. Nevertheless, officials have confirmed that he will not be able to drive a 2009 specification Formula One car until Friday practice for the European Grand Prix begins in Valencia on 21 August. Schumacher is believed to have told Ferrari, for whom he will drive as a replacement for the injured Felipe Massa, that he does not think that will be a problem.

The world champion, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, whose Formula One career began the race after Schumacher's ended, said yesterday: "I am excited by the possibility of Michael's return, assuming it happens, but my thoughts are still with Felipe [Massa] and his family following his terrible accident in Hungary."

The championship leader Jenson Button described Schumacher's return as "very brave". "It will be good to have Michael racing again," the Brawn driver said. "There are very good people out there racing at the moment, but to have Michael there again will be very special, although I'm sure we all wish Felipe was there also.

"It's an interesting situation because if he wins people will say they expected him to, and if he doesn't, they will say he should not have come back," Button said. "I'm happy he has taken up the challenge. It's very brave of him."

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen said: "We had many good battles in the past, but it will be extra special to fight with Michael as my team-mate."

Massa's personal doctor, Dino Altman, said he has been so impressed with the speed of recovery of the Brazilian driver injured during qualifying for last weekend's Hungarian GP that Massa is on schedule to leave hospital in less than 10 days.

Altman reported that Massa's brain swelling is fading fast. "It involved only a tiny part of the brain. There's nothing to worry about, and no further operations are forecast. No permanent damage. He speaks normally, very well and more than before. He remembers everything starting from Saturday, except for the crash of which he can't remember anything. He knows what day is today, and he also knows that for two or three days he wasn't conscious, and he can remember his position in qualifying prior to the accident."

Second bites: Comeback kings

Niki Lauda

The Austrian was a double world champion when he hung up his helmet in 1979 to run his airline (as you do). Returned three years later and in 1984 won the title again.

Verdict: Laud of all

George Foreman

Heavyweight champion of the world at 25 – and at 45. In 1994 he beat Michael Moorer to reclaim his title having previously retired to become a minister, no doubt practising muscular Christianity.

Verdict: Lord of all

Lance Armstrong

Finished third in his comeback Tour de France – but when you have seven yellow jerseys anything other than a win falls short of expectations. Bickering with your team-mate doesn't help either.

Verdict: Saddle-sore

Lester Piggott

Called it a day in 1985, but after B&B with Her Majesty came galloping back in 1990 with victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile 10 days after his release.

Verdict: Worth the wait

Zinedine Zidane

Turned his back on France after Euro 2004 but was lured out of retirement and was pivotal in their progress to the 2006 World Cup final against Italy. But there's always a butt...

Verdict: Lost his head

Robin Scott-Elliot

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