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. Joshy said on 9th January 2010, 15:45

    I just can’t wait for the 2010 season! Bring it on!

  2. chris said on 9th January 2010, 23:41

    I just can’t wait for the 2010 season! Bring it on!
    right Joshy!

    its gonna be hot. schumacher, button, alonso, hamilton, massa,vettel… fuel ban, no kers and no double diffusers.

    i just hope no stupid missfortunes will come along like a broken engines and so on.

    also ancious to see how fit schumacher is. But, nomatter who will go first over the line he will be shouting thru the radio: i won from schumacher! such a victory will double in value.

  3. wasiF1 said on 10th January 2010, 1:03

    If Schumacher race for three season then for sure he will get his 8th title.

  4. sprint_9 said on 10th January 2010, 3:20

    They will make for a fast combination, all the key components will be in place. Engines, driver, team, and money will all be there, the only unknown will be how the car performs and I doubt that will be an issue.

  5. ConcedoNulli said on 10th January 2010, 9:28

    I think you do John Watson a great disservice. In both 1982 and 1983 he finished the drivers championship ahead of Lauda (and in ’82 was second in the points although awarded third on podium count back). The real difference between the two was the salary.

    In 1984 Wattie fell foul of salary negotiations with Ron Dennis. Dennis picked up Prost at a knockdown price. Otherwise Wattie would have surely given Lauda a run for his money and possibly even won the 1985 WDC.

    Wattie won the the Hawthorn Memorial Trophy in 1978, ’82 and ’83 which was awarded to the most successful British or Commonwealth F1 driver. In the modern era his contribution to British motorsport and recognition of his racing goes sadly unrecognised.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th January 2010, 9:54

      I agree, Watson did very well and won some excellent races at this time. I don’t think I said anything to diminish him in this article.

      • ConcedoNulli said on 10th January 2010, 20:42

        Keith, I just got the felt that your article indicated that during ’82 Lauda was unlucky to not be in the reckoning at season end (and he was). However Wattie had been in the reckoning for most of the season, and led the WDC for a significant period. In ’83 the MP4 suffered from having the Ford engine, but Watson still eclipsed Lauda. Especially in ’83 US West winning from 22nd on the grid! If he had kept his seat the indicators are that he, not Lauda, would have been WDC in ’84. Sadly Ron Dennis did Wattie no favours. Having said that Lauda did recommend Wattie to sign with Dennis.

        In recent years Wattie has become the forgotten man in UK motorsport media e.g. Autosport. In their annual pre-British GP spreads they invariably fail to mention Wattie as the home grown talent who won in ’81. Perhaps he suffered too much from Ulster-born reticence in comparison to the self publicists like Mansell?

        As you can see I am a dyed in the wool Wattie fan, and make no apologies for it. Maybe yoyu could do an article on Wattie?

  6. Very insightful article.

    I’m going to be particularly interested to see what some might call the borderline, if not blatant, cheating from Michael. Anyway you look at it, it will keep our fingers furiously typing thats for sure. Bring it on…

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