Michael Schumacher’s decision to cancel his Formula 1 comeback came as a massive disappointment to the motor sporting world, and not least to the thousands of fans who had hurriedly booked tickets for the last seven races of the season.
In the end Schumacher paid a heavy price for his ill-fated efforts on two wheels, having injured his neck in a crash while testing a superbike in Spain in February.
Schumacher had agreed to replace the injured Felipe Massa just days after the Brazilian suffered head injuries in his freak impact with a spring from Rubens Barrichello’s car in qualifying in Budapest. The Ferrari announcement did contain a rider to the effect that it was dependent on the former World Champion’s health situation, but after he drove an obsolete F2007 at Mugello, all seemed to be well.
In fact that outing and its aftermath convinced Schumacher’s doctor that he would not be able to compete in the European Grand Prix at Valencia, despite having already thrown himself into a fitness programme.
His withdrawal gave a long-awaited chance to 38-year-old test driver Luca Badoer, exactly 10 years after he was passed over in favour of Mika Salo when Schumacher broke his leg in the 1999 British GP. That season Badoer was racing for Minardi while also testing for Ferrari, and until Valencia he had not raced a car of any kind in this century.
It remains to be seen whether Badoer keeps the seat until the end of the season, but apart from fellow Ferrari tester Marc Gené, there are no other obvious replacements.
Massa stayed only a week in hospital in Hungary before returning to recuperate at home in Brazil. Although a comeback this season would seem to be unwise, the absence of Schumacher has made such a possibility more likely. Although ‘proper’ testing is banned, Schumacher’s F2007 run has opened up the possibility for Massa to feel his way back in, rather than make his return on a race weekend.