The new rules, cars and rivals Michael Schumacher will have to get to grips with

F1 cars and rules have changed hugely in the three years Schumacher's been away

F1 cars and rules have changed hugely in the three years Schumacher's been away

When Michael Schumacher makes his return to F1 in three weeks’ time, he’ll find a lot has changed since he parked his 248-F1 after his last race on October 22nd, 2006.

That car had grooved tyres, traction control and much less restricted aerodynamics than today’s cars. Not only that, but race weekends have changed, three of the remaining tracks are new to him, and there’s a host of new opponents as well.

Slicks

He may have ended his career on grooved tyres but Schumacher won his first two championships on slicks in 1994 and 1995. He made 101 of his 248 starts on slick tyres.

True, the current generation tyres are much different to those he last sampled in 1997. But his working relationship with Bridgestone was never anything less than first-class, and he we surely be up to speed quickly.

What he will find different is that, for the first time since 2000, he will have to use the same tyres as everyone else. And he will have fewer tyres to use over the course of a weekend than he was used to.

Reduced downforce

Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari 248-F1 at Suzuka in 2006

Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari 248-F1 at Suzuka in 2006

Schumacher’s last F1 car (above) was festooned with many of the aerodynamic appendages now banned: bridge wings, flip-ups and all manner of different flow conditioners. Plus, larger and more complicated surfaces for the front and rear wings.

Compare the 248-F1 with the current generation F60 (below) and it’s easy to see how far aerodynamic devices have been cut back this year. That means less grip and, in particular, a more lively rear end to contend with.

The current Ferrari has much simpler wings and less downforce

The current Ferrari has much simpler wings and less downforce

No traction control

Disappointingly for racing purists, the most successful driver F1 has ever seen was a staunch defender of traction control. Happily, the introduction of a standard ECU last year has made traction control extinct – Schumacher will have to rely on all the dexterity of his right foot to ensure the F60 doesn’t get away from him.

He won’t have engine braking to help keep the car stable under deceleration either. All in all, we could see a far greater demonstration of his skill than we did in his previous seasons with Ferrari.

KERS

He’s got some new buttons to play with as well, including the most controversial of all: KERS. Ferrari along with McLaren are the only team left using it, but the one-two for KERS cars at Hungary suggests it could now be the thing to have.

He will be treated to its already famed utility in helping drivers make up places at the start. And the man wh pushed the boundaries of defensive driving further than anyone will now be even tougher to overtake.

Adjustable front wing

The other major innovation on the 2009 cars is their adjustable front wings, which have drawn conspicuously less attention than KERS has. What – if anything – will Schumacher make of them?

Among the other technical changes to the cars since Schumacher last raced are 18,000rpm limiters and

Qualifying and race rules

Beyond he technical tweaks to the cars, what else has changed?

There have been many small tweaks to the rules of competition since Schumacher last raced in F1. The madness of ‘fuel burn’ qualifying, for example, is gone.

The restrictions on spare cars introduced in 2008 will be new to him, and he will take on Felipe Massa’s limited allocation of engines.

And the safety car rules are much changed compared to what was in place in 2006, with lapped cars now able to un-lap themselves

Read more

Tracks

Schumacher has never raced on the Valencia street circuit before

Schumacher has never raced on the Valencia street circuit before

Valencia is the first of three circuits remaining on the calendar that Schumacher has never driven at before. If he remains in the seat for the rest of the year he will also have to tackle Singapore, where he will race at night for the first time since the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The season finale at Abu Dhabi will also be new to him – and everyone else on the grid, for that matter.

However he will get to race at two of his favourite venues: Spa and Suzuka.

Rivals

Michael Schumacher has never raced in a Grand Prix with eight of the active drivers in F1 today. They are Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Sebastian Vettel, Kazuki Nakajima, Adrian Sutil and Nelson Piquet Jnr (though the latter may not get to race at Valencia).

For us, this gives us a chance to measure him against recent emerging talent like world champion Hamilton (who he did once race against in karts) and ‘new Schumacher’ Vettel.

For him, these are opponents he has little experience of at best, and any of them will delight in putting one over the old master.

Team mate

Schumacher’s new team mate will be the man who replaced him in 2007 – and who won that year’s championship: Kimi Raikkonen.

The suspicion on Schumacher’s retirement in 2006 was that he didn’t want to take on a driver of Raikkonen’s talent. But after winning the championship two years ago, Raikkonen has since suffered a slump in performance.

The Finn faces the unenviable task not only of being Schumacher’s team mate but also – having much more experience of the F60 – being expected to give him a run for his money.

Ferrari personnel

The Ferrari team Schumacher returns to is much changed from the one he won five championships with. Jean Todt is no longer at the helm, nor will he have the organisational ability and tactical cunning of Ross Brawn to fall back on.

Under Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari has been much more warmly regarded by its rivals than it was under Todt. But how will Schumacher perform without the uncompromising Todt?

And who will be his race engineer? Rob Smedley may not want to return to action without Massa, and Schumacher’s old engineer Chris Dyer is now on Raikkonen’s side of the garage.

Despite this, the F60 is arguably more competitive now than it has been all year – Raikkonen finished a solid second behind Hamilton at the Hungaroring. Even considering all the changes to F1 in the last three years, it’s not inconceivable Schumacher could win on his return.

What do you expect from Michael Schumacher’s return to F1? What changes will give him trouble – and which ones will play to his strengths? Have your say in the comments.

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134 comments on The new rules, cars and rivals Michael Schumacher will have to get to grips with

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  1. In all honesty, even if the young talent in F1 wipe the floor with him, it’s not something you could really hold against him. Having no experience of the new cars it wouldn’t be a surprise if he struggled all weekend.

    Having said that, it’s Schumacher we are talking about, and therefore it wouldn’t be a surprise if he wipes the floor with everyone out there.

    One thing for sure is that Schumi will be the busiest person in the paddock come Valencia, on and off the track.

  2. KAV said on 30th July 2009, 13:16

    Wow it’s amazing to see how much F1 changes in such a short period of time. I never liked Schumacher, but he deserves so much respect for coming back when he’s got so much to lose. If he gets beaten then people will just say Raikkonen was indeed faster, disregarding the fact that Schumacher hasn’t been out to play in a long time and has to be severely past his prime. He is risking his legacy in a way.

    Isn’t Chris Dyer the head engineer or something now? He looks over everything that Raikkonens and Massas engineers do. Raikkonen received a new race engineer this year I believe.

  3. Tim said on 30th July 2009, 13:19

    He’s hoped in unfamiliar territory in the past and come out shining. I doubt he will have lost his edge. this yearscars are some 2sec per lap slower too so any slow down in his reaction time won’t be an issue.

    I expect him to qualify within a 1/10th of Raikonnen in the first race and then beating him in the next

  4. Terry Fabulous said on 30th July 2009, 13:19

    I would back Schumi to meticulously prepare for his first race and arrive in Valencia having done everything possible to maximise his race.

    It was one of the big impressions of the man that James Allen’s book gives. He makes every little thing count so that the big things look after themselves.

    He will also flog Kimi!

  5. Andrew White said on 30th July 2009, 13:21

    If Alguersuari can beat his team mate on his F1 debut, then I have no doubt that Schumacher can at least be competitive in Valencia.

    I don’t think the technical rules and the weekend format will be a problem because he has been an advisor to Ferrari this season. Likewise with the personnel for the same reason.

    The most interesting thing will be seeing Hamilton and Schumacher racing; I hope they end up jostling for position a couple of times!

  6. PJA said on 30th July 2009, 13:21

    If it is a regular race I don’t think Schumacher will win in Valencia but I would expect him to get some points if Ferrari’s recent pace is anything to go by, and if he continues for the rest of the season I wouldn’t be surprised if managed to get a win, but I think it will largely depend on how competitive the F60.

    After the performance Alguersuari put in at the last Grand Prix having never even turned a corner in an F1 car I don’t think Schumacher will have much trouble adjusting to F1 2009 with all his experience.

    • Tom said on 31st July 2009, 1:15

      i kind of hope he doesn’t win a race. i collect the 1:18 scale models and i have a schumacher retirement series model commemorating his final win in china 2006. if he wins, it will be worthless!!!! but in every other respect, i hope he wins.

  7. keepF1technical said on 30th July 2009, 13:22

    not to mention the competition he now faces off the start line. Raikanon and Webber will give the chop meister some equal wheel bashing in return.

  8. ivars said on 30th July 2009, 13:24

    but one thing is clear… the formula1 (commercial, ferrari, teams, fans, me … ) get amazing contribution for all time in f1 history!!

  9. Dougie said on 30th July 2009, 13:25

    I think in the first race he’ll do all right. He won’t set the world alight, but he won’t be suffering from a relative “lack of experience” either. He’ll certainly be putting in the laps in practice… for sure!

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the podium in that first race.

  10. HounslowBusGarage said on 30th July 2009, 13:27

    Keith, can you elaborate on this a bit

    He won’t hve engine braking to help keep the car stable under deceleration either.

    I’ve obviously missed this.
    How does this not happen any more, or has it been banned?

  11. DGR-F1 said on 30th July 2009, 13:30

    If he can live up to his reputation then I think we will have a very enjoyable end of season seeing him competing against Vettel, Hammy, Button, Barichello and Webber, as well as Kimi.
    However, what are the implications within Ferrari if he manages to get more points than either Massa or Kimi have so far in the Championship? It won’t look good if he beats Kimi too often either, and on the other hand it won’t look good if he doesn’t beat Kimi at least once.
    I wonder how well he will get on without Todt or Brawn supporting him from the Pit Wall, as Stephano does not appear to have the tactical expertise Schuey may expect.
    And an interesting point about Rob Smedley too, I guess he has to work with whatever driver he is asked to, so we can expect some ‘Schuey Baby’ when all is wonderful….

    • Thommo said on 31st July 2009, 15:38

      I am certain that Schumi will perform creditably. He is, however, unlikely to win at Valencia given that it is a street circuit and unless he qualifies well – KERS does not seem to make much difference in qualifying – he cannot win.
      But it’s without a doubt the best thing that has happened in F1 in the recent past. There are ever so many who stopped watching F1 with the same passion once Michael left the scene. Valencia will see a tremendous boost in viewership

  12. It is almost as if it is his debut all over again.

  13. Its Hammer time said on 30th July 2009, 13:35

    I am fit to bursting with excitement. Question to every one. He cannot drive the F60 until spain because of the testing ban but presumably Ferrari could hire out Mugello and have Michael lapping an F2008 constantly for ‘exhibition/ demonstration’ over the next few weeks. Would this be allowed in the rules?
    How is testing defined?

    • Adrian said on 30th July 2009, 14:55

      Yeah I wondered this. I’m sure the cost wouldn’t be an issue to Ferrari. So they could (if it’s allowed within the rules) produce an aero kit for the F2008 that would produce the same level of downforce as the F60, fit it with some slicks and let him have some fun in private so that he would at least have a baseline setup come Valencia.

    • Thommo said on 31st July 2009, 15:40

      Schumi is already doing that – not with a F2008 but with a 2007 model and he is using a simulator, which is within the rules

  14. Sebastien Carter said on 30th July 2009, 13:37

    Schumacher is facing a serious risk of tainting his legacy. That last race is Brazil is remembered far and away as one of his greatest races and to end on a note like that was something special.

    I’m not the greatest of Schumacher’s supporters but I have enourmous respect for his racecraft and his winning achievements. It would be a great shame to see one of, if not the number one, greatest driver in f1 history flail about in a car he doesn’t know, on tracks he hasn’t driven on.

    I think there must be enourmous, but unfair, pressure on him to make sure he can still do what he used to do. I personally don’t want to see a once great racer go the way of other talents like Graham Hill, Alan Jones, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell in not knowing when to stop. I think Schumacher retired at the right time in 2006, and to come back now and get it wrong would not only disappoint his legion of fans, but also ruin his image as one of the greatest racers ever.

    I’m fascinated by the return of Schumacher, and I wish him all the best. It’s going to be a great sight to see him fight against the new generation, but I don’t want to see him fade out like a old man amongst a young crowd.

    • mfDB said on 30th July 2009, 14:32

      @Sebastien Carter – I disagree, the F60 is not championship quality and he therefore doesn’t have to be either. If he has some decent results, something similar to what Massa has done so far then it will just be looked at as a kind thing that some old guy did back in 09 (keep in mind the Ferrari’s didn’t score for the first couple of rounds so it won’t be hard to match Massa or Kimi).

      Also, he’s not trying to make some come back, he’s just helping out his old team and his old friend in a tough situation. I think he could have miserable results, and it would still not tarnish his reputation.

      If it was 2007 with Kimi and Lewis pushing for the title and shumi came in and got out raced, then I would agree with you 100%.

      • Yes, you are right!

      • Martin said on 30th July 2009, 23:18

        @Sebastian, I will say that I am not a Schumacher fan, but I am not a detractor either. I remeber when he came to Ferrari his first season, he took a car that was midpack at best and won with it 3 times and was third in the championship.
        I would not be suprised if he places better than most and would be less surprised if he wins. I have seen him do better than was expected on several occasions.

    • TeamOrders said on 30th July 2009, 23:47

      I disagree, there’s no damage to his reputation or legacy if he’s slower than Kimi and struggles a bit. He spent over 10 years as the fastest driver in the field, if he’s slow in a fill in role after 2.5 years out of a car, that will not reflect in anyway on his decade at the top.

  15. Damon said on 30th July 2009, 13:39

    We can’t get overexcited and forget how this season has looked so far. Ferrari had the worst start to a season since almost two decades, and have been very slowly climbing up the ladder with each single race.

    The Brawn might not have the best car in the field anymore, but the Red Bull do. Perhaps it was only a matter of a very slow Hungaroring track characteristic that made McLaren and Ferrari suddenly competetive again.

    On a ‘regular’ (=faster) track they might be still one or two steps behind the fastest cars. And we shouldn’t suddenly expect more – than we would have expected 2 or 3 races ago – only because of the driver’s name that we associate with Ferrari’s days of glory.

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