Schumacher injury could impede comeback

Michael Schumacher hopes the neck injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident in February will not hinder his attempted comeback to Formula One.

A day after announcing he was ending retirement to temporarily replace injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, Schumacher's return was contingent on passing a fitness and other medical tests that could take several days, his doctor Johannes Peil said.

"Had Michael not worked so hard in recent months, all this would not have been possible," Peil said.

Schumacher was considered one of the fittest drivers until he retired at the end of 2006, and Peil said the seven-time world champion has been working out at home regularly, especially on his neck muscles.

In February, Schumacher crashed during a motorcycle race, but his neck injuries were never described in detail. He has not believed to have raced on two wheels since. Neck muscles are critical for F1 drivers, who experience great G forces during a race.

While the 40-year-old Schumacher hopes to compete in the next race, the European Grand Prix in Valencia on Aug. 23, he and Ferrari were downplaying any chance of him adding to his record 91 victories in 250 starts.

"I hope he's up to it physically and he can pass the tests that must be administered for the neck muscles, which he hasn't used in a while," Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said in Rome.

"But already today, the entire team is working to prepare him. Tomorrow he'll have his first tests on the track."

Montezemolo said Schumacher had little time to become accustomed to the Ferrari and new KERS overtaking technology. Also, the circuit in Valencia has been modified since Schumacher retired, and testing has been banned to save costs.

"This will be a big problem, at least for the first race, because he's going to find himself on a circuit he's never driven on, with a car he's never driven, and with technology he doesn't know," Montezemolo said. "But, unfortunately, this is the price we have to pay."

Former world champion Niki Lauda, also a Ferrari alumnus, agreed.

"He doesn't know the circuit in Valencia, he doesn't know the car, he is not allowed to do any test driving," Lauda said. "These are tougher conditions than for his rivals. And on top, Ferrari doesn't have a top car."

As a consultant for Ferrari since his retirement, Schumacher was aware of its struggle to develop a competitive car this year.

After winning the constructors' standings last season, the Italian team was third, languishing 74 points behind leader Brawn GP.

"Last year we were fighting for the championship really to the last race, which made development a little bit more complicated," Schumacher said. "It made us have to develop the (2008) car and a new one at the same time.

"But we're preparing a new one, and over the years it has worked out pretty good. We like competition, but we like to be the winner out of it."

For now, Schumacher's decision to step in for Massa, who was recovering from skull fractures from a crash in Hungarian GP qualifying last weekend, had triggered a massive media hype, and was considered welcome news for F1.

Auto racing's premier series has been hit by setbacks, including the withdrawal of two major manufacturers within less than a year. Honda pulled out after last season and BMW announced its withdrawal hours before Schumacher made his decision public. The manufacturers have been feuding with the series' administrators about cost-cutting moves and other rules in recent months.

Television ratings have also been dropping in Germany, one of its top markets.

"This is the best thing that could happen to Formula One and it's simply great for our series," said Mercedes motor sports chief Norbert Haug.

Massa has been warned by doctors that he may never race again, but the Brazilian still hopes to.

"Yesterday, I went for the second time to visit Felipe and I saw big improvement," Montezemolo said. "I hope Felipe returns soon, and of course whenever he comes back the car will be there waiting for him.

"To have Michael in for us, for the team, and I think Formula One after this, will help the sport bounce back after useless polemics and controversy that has had nothing to do with the sport.

"Let's hope he's coming back to win, together with Kimi (Raikkonen)."

Sourced from: The New Zealand Herald