The F1 comeback Schumacher will want to emulate: Niki Lauda

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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

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

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

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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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
    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. That 1984 McLaren looks gorgeous.

  5. 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.

    1. The photo of Lauda at Long Beach in 1982 is of a Cosworth-powered McLaren. The TAG engine only came along at the end of 1983.

    2. …and I removed what was the fourth picture but didn’t delete the extra credit. Fixed now.

  6. 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.

    1. are you forgetting vettel

      1. ….and the rest of the grid?

        Hulkenberg in particular. He’ll be WDC this year. :)

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

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

    2. 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. 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. 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.

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

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

  17. 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.

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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?

        1. As you can see I am a dyed in the wool Wattie fan, and make no apologies for it.

          Fair enough – I’ll see what I can do :-)

          1. That would be very much appreciated.

            Looking forward to it.


  21. 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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