Shocked. Stunned. Say whaaaaaaaaa?
Mercedes GP has confirmed Michael Schumacher as its driver for next season, in a deal he said was three years long and believed to be worth €7 million (US$10 million).
The much-anticipated move will reunite Schumacher, who turns 41 in January, with team principal Ross Brawn, with whom he has secured all seven of his world championships. He will be part of an all-German team with 24-year-old Nico Rosberg, who agreed a deal with Mercedes last month.
"The motivation I think is pretty straightforward," Schumacher said. "Our aim can only be to fight for the championship. We are talking about a three-year deal, it is not a one-off thing. We are obviously looking for continuity.
"The call I got from Ross at the end of November concerning the chance to go racing, Mercedes being involved, I felt great. I never left the race track. I was tired of F1 by the end of 2006, but in three years of absence I got back all the energy that I am feeling right now. I played around with motorbikes and I feel ready for some serious stuff now."
Schumacher was expected to return with Ferrari last year as a replacement for the injured Felipe Massa. But his comeback was cancelled after a neck injury, sustained in a motorbike test in February, turned out to be more serious than previously thought. He has recently undergone extensive medical tests, and has now declared himself fit to race.
"It is obviously a topic that I understand is questioned, and I want to understand," Schumacher said when asked about his neck. "Before I gave a final okay I made sure that I was sure myself, and I can say 100% the neck is no further issue. Unfortunately it was too close to the accident in the summer when I tried for Ferrari, but the time now is enough to have healed completely. I can do everything I used to do, and no problem."
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Brawn said he now had one of the best driver line ups in F1 and was confident Schumacher could challenge for the title next year.
"[Schumacher] is the best judge of what he can do," Brawn said. "I trust him explicitly and he told me he can do it. He has always been his own best critic, the man himself knows what he is capable of. I am very comfortable and confident and put my trust in Michael, and it won't be misplaced."
Brawn won both drivers' and constructors' titles in 2009 with Jenson Button, but the British driver left the team last month to drive for McLaren. When asked, Brawn denied Button was pushed out of the team to make space for Schumacher.
"We made a good effort to try to find a solution with Jenson and it didn't work out," he said. "Jenson made his decision in the end not to stay. We made a big effort to keep him but it wasn't possible in the end.
"It overlapped to be honest. I had a loyalty to Jenson but when that started to look difficult I started talking to Michael, and things developed from there. Michael and I kept very close over the years and I saw from his disappointment over the summer, when he couldn't drive a Ferrari, how much passion he still has for the sport. We're incredibly excited now about the prospect of Michael being part of the team."
Although initially for one year, the deal is thought to allow Schumacher a chance to renew, should his comeback be as successful as many expect. Mercedes is likely to be covering its bases with the big-name signing, until Sebastian Vettel is free from his Red Bull contract in 2012.