Ferrari's Schumacher fear

FERRARI bring back Michael Schumacher to bolster Eddie Irvine's World Championship challenge this weekend with as much anxiety as optimism.

FERRARI bring back Michael Schumacher to bolster Eddie Irvine's World Championship challenge this weekend with as much anxiety as optimism.

The return of Schumacher for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix was trumpeted as a triumph against the odds after the German had said he was not sufficiently recovered from a broken leg to race again this season. Schumacher denied yesterday, however, that he is still unhappy about racing and was manoeuvred back into competitive action by Luca di Montezemolo.

The Ferrari president dispatched a doctor to provide a second opinion on his £15m-a-year driver. The doctor's conclusion was that Schumacher need not necessarily miss the final two rounds of the championship. Three days of testing in Italy last week reportedly convinced Ferrari that the German was fit enough to race.

"I have heard stories Di Montezemolo is making me drive but I am independent enough to make my own decisions," Schumacher said.

An interview given by Schumacher's manager, Willi Weber, puts a different complexion on the double champion's comeback. He said: "What happens if Michael has another accident? He won't only be compromising his health, but also next season."

Many Formula One observers have suggested all along that Schumacher would be reluctant to assist his team-mate, Eddie Irvine. He went to Ferrari four years ago to deliver the championship and saw it as his destiny. The Ulsterman was hired as his No 2, a role he fulfilled for three and a half years until Schumacher's accident, at the British Grand Prix, three months ago. Now the positions are reversed and Irvine is expecting Schumacher's support.

Ferrari have put themselves into a difficult and potentially self-destructive situation. It remains to be seen if Schumacher is willing to commit himself in the way they palpably demand. "I am first of all driving for the team and not in the interests of Eddie," Schumacher said yesterday. "The only way I can help him is if I am directly in front of him - then I will let him by, that is very clear. But if that is not the case he will have to manage on his own."

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