The F1 comeback Schumacher will want to emulate: Niki Lauda

Like Lauda, Schumacher might just have another title in him

Like Lauda, Schumacher might just have another title in him

One of the off-season’s most tantalising questions is how Michael Schumacher will fare on his F1 return.

Other F1 world champions have made comebacks from retirement before him. Alan Jones did it twice, though with little success on either occasion. And Alain Prost did too though that was a pre-planned return from a sabbatical.

Schumacher’s return has more in common with Niki Lauda’s. And he will certainly want to match Lauda’s feat of winning another championship after more than a season out of the cockpit.

Like Schumacher, Lauda’s meticulous professionalism brought a new era of success to Ferrari. And Schumacher too will make his F1 comeback with a different team.

Lauda was lured back to Formula 1 by Ron Dennis, who had taken over McLaren at the end of 1980. Lauda dictated terms to sponsor Marlboro, commanding the highest salary ever earned by an F1 driver at that point.

Decades before testing restrictions were enforced, Lauda tested McLaren’s ground-breaking carbon fibre chassis MP4/1 at Donington Park late in 1981. He got within a tenth of a second of new team mate John Watson’s best lap time – but went away knowing he needed an intensive programme of training to get fit enough to drive the latest generation of ground effect F1 cars.

Lauda’s winning return

Niki Lauda won his third race after returning to F1 in 1982

Niki Lauda won his third race after returning to F1 in 1982

The big story on the weekend of Lauda’s return to F1 was the drivers’ strike he played a role in starting (more on that here). More importantly for him, he was instantly on form, finishing fourth from 13th on the grid.

Two rounds later, at Long Beach, it got even better. Lauda spent much of the qualifying session on provisional pole before being bumped by Andrea de Cesaris. On race day, he bided his time, patiently following de Cesaris until the pressure took its toll on the Alfa Romeo driver. A moment’s hesitation behind a lapped car and Lauda was through into the lead. Just three races into his F1 comeback he was a winner once again.

He added a second victory at Brands Hatch later in the year – meaning he ended the season with one win more than champion Keke Rosberg. Indeed, Lauda would have gone into the final round two points behind Rosberg had he not been disqualified from the Belgian Grand Prix for ending the race one-and-a-half kilos underweight.

Comeback champion

Niki Lauda on his way to championship number three at Brands Hatch in 1984

Niki Lauda on his way to championship number three at Brands Hatch in 1984

At the end of 1983 McLaren put a turbo engine in its car for the first time. When the TAG-Porsche was married to the all-new MP4/2 chassis for the 1984 season the team created a car which dominated the championship like few before it or since. Lauda and Alain Prost, who had replaced Watson, won 12 of the 16 races.

After nine rounds the title looked like Prost’s for the taking – he led the championship with 35.5 points to Lauda’s 24. But Lauda blitzed the second half of the championship, with three wins and three second places from the final seven races, to snatch the title for his team mate by half a point.

While Lauda in 1982 joined a team which was clearly on the up but had a lot of ground to cover, Schumacher has the advantage of joining the team which won last year’s world championship.

At this stage in the year it’s impossible to tell how good he and the car are going to be. But it’s hard to believe the man who won seven world championships would come back to F1 on a whim when he’s not fit enough. And the reason the BGP 001 saw so little development in the second half of last year was because work had begun early on its 2010 successor.

Like Lauda, Schumacher chose his team carefully and has come back to win.

Images (C) Mercedes, Ford, Michelin

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32 comments on The F1 comeback Schumacher will want to emulate: Niki Lauda

  1. at this stage, before we know the result of the first test, you have to give him a very decent chance. He would not have come back for anyone else but ross, and i’m sure that with both of their experience and the backing of mercedes, they will certainly be better able to continue the development of the car throughout the season whether it is the best at the start or not.

  2. Accidental Mick said on 9th January 2010, 8:40

    As we have said before,F1 is a team sport and in the last 20 years or so has got much more competitive and professional than it used to be.

    Ross Brawn must be the most succesfull Team Leader (whatever title the leader carries) of the modern era. In fact, one wonders how much of Schumcher’s success was down to Brawn’s ability to make use of Schumacher undouted talent.

    Given that Schumacher decided to make a comeback, he has certainly chosen the right team and Button might regret his choice.

  3. Schumacher also has two things going for him that Lauda didn’t.

    By the time the McLaren-TAG was up to winning a world title, Lauda had Alain Prost for a team mate. John Watson he could handle fairly easily but Prost (just sacked from Renault for reasons relating to his, er, performances outside the car) was another kettle of fish. Schumacher faces Nico Rosberg, who is good but not quite on the Prost-level.

    Lauda’s motivation to come back was also different – money. By the early 1980s, Lauda Air was in financial difficulties and the easiest way to raise some extra capital was to go back to F1. Schumacher doesn’t have an airline to fund and, by all reports, isn’t actually getting paid very much to return to F1 – he’s doing it to win.

  4. James Bond said on 9th January 2010, 9:00

    That 1984 McLaren looks gorgeous.

  5. James Bond said on 9th January 2010, 9:13

    Images (C) Mercedes, Ford, Michelin, Ford

    May I please know why Ford is being acknowledged here for those pictures? I thought those McLaren’s in the pics were powered by the TAG-Porsche turbos.

  6. Gustav said on 9th January 2010, 10:20

    While I have no doubt Schumacher will be able to mount a serious title challenge for 2010, I don’t think he will be able to win it. The grid line-up today is just too tough for him to come in and dominate. After Hakkinen lost his form in 2001, up until 2005 the only challenge to Schumacher was a very unreliable Mercedes engine. From there Alonso took over and none of us doubts that Alonso was fast, but today we might even have one or two drivers who are even faster on raw pace.

    I reckon Schumacher will finish 2nd or 3rd in the championship, Alonso or Hamilton will win it.

  7. sumedh said on 9th January 2010, 10:43

    If there is one thing that is certainly there in F1, then it is uncertainty. Time and again, Pundits and arm-chair experts have been proven wrong by F1.

    Michael will certainly like to emulate Lauda. But really, nothing can be said. It depends on a variety of factors. The major 3 being:

    1. The competitiveness of the Mclaren. At the end of 2010, it did seem that Mclaren still depended heavily on its KERS for its performance improvement, in which case there development for 2010 might not be straight-forward.

    2. The competitiveness of the Ferrari. The 2009 was fundamentally flawed. They have literally started 2010 on a clean sheet again. Although, this does not seem like an ideal starting point, their 2009 challenger was pretty decent inspite of all shortcomings.

    3. His performance against Rosberg. Although, I think Rosberg if over-rated, it will be foolish to write him off. If he surprises Schumi, this comeback will be over even before the European leg of 2010 starts,

    The Redbull and Mercedez will no doubt be competitive. Their 2010 designs are logical next generations of 2009, so should be straight-forward.

  8. Christopher said on 9th January 2010, 11:43

    That photo at the top.. just how big is Ross Brawn?!

    • Sebastian said on 9th January 2010, 15:37

      He’s not a very large man. F1 drivers on the other hand are usually very short.

    • beneboy said on 9th January 2010, 15:46

      Ross isn’t that big, it’s Schumacher who is small at about 5′ 7. Most racing drivers aren’t much bigger than jockey’s :-)

  9. I just saw “f1 comeback” and “Lauda at Mclaren” and was very VERY confused :P

  10. Icthyes said on 9th January 2010, 12:21

    That 1982 McLaren has reminded me why, even though aero is a massive problem these days, removing either of the wings wouldn’t be a good idea ;-)

    It’s an interesting and valid parallel between Lauda and Schumacher, and it will be interesting to see how far it goes.

  11. Macca said on 9th January 2010, 12:22

    It would be a dream come true if Webber could fight the title out with Schumacher. My 2 favourite drivers.

  12. Very interesting comparison. Sure if anyone can emulate Lauda then it will be Schumi. Schumi will have the advantage of Brawn which will help him fit into a new team.
    Also Lauda made a fair fight back after his horrific accident at the Nurburgring and Felipe will be coming back after being injured at Hungary so another comparison there although slightly weaker than the Schumi-Lauda one :P

  13. I agree with everyone that it is too early to make any predictions for this season, but assuming all the top teams are fairly evenly matched, I don’t think Schumacher will win the title but he should win some races.

  14. Judging by history Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey are the ones who almost always deliver a competetive car.
    Scumacher and Vettel are I think quite sure to be fighting for the campionship with Alonso and Hamilton joining in if Ferrari and McLaren can produce good enough cars, which we have seen if far from certain.
    Especially Ferrari is questionable, they still live of the hype created from the years of Brawn and Shumacher but reality now seems to come ever closer. They have an excuse for 2009 since they had no double diffuser and has made Raikkonen a scape goat but for 2010 there vill be none.

  15. The big joker in the deck for the 2010 season is the refueling ban, and how drivers will be able to handle their cars going from max weight to min. weights as well as extracting the best performances from their tires.

    I believe drivers like Button and Schumy will have the requisite skills to take advantage of this year’s parameters; Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, maybe not as well.

    Regarding car design, Ross Brawn has never been a car designer, has he? While at Ferrari I believe the cars were designed by Rory Byrne, and the fellow who designed the ’09 Brawn (who’s name escapes me) has left the team earlier. Which begs the question, who is designing the ’10 Mercedes GP car and how good will it be, regardless of how early of a start they had?

    Even Schumy can’t turn a pigs ear into a silk purse.

    • I think Alonso, Lewis and maybe Vettel will change their driving styles if they need to, I don’t see them having any problems.

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