Frankfurt, Germany Michael Schumacher is trying to get his 40-year-old body in shape for his Formula One comeback next month.
The seven-time champion is filling in for injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa and hopes to race at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, on Aug. 23.
Schumacher retired at the end of the 2006 season, and his return is greatly anticipated in his home country of Germany. He holds nearly all Formula One records and won 91 races in 250 starts.
The comeback is contingent on Schumacher passing a battery of medical tests that could take several days, his doctor, Johannes Peil, said Thursday.
“Had Michael not worked so hard in recent months, all this would not have been possible,” Peil said.
Schumacher, one of the fittest drivers in his racing days, injured his neck in a motorcycle accident in February. Peil said the former champion has been working out at home regularly, especially on his neck muscles.
The injuries from the motorcycle race have never been described in detail. Schumacher is believed to have not raced on two wheels since. Neck muscles are critical for Formula One drivers, who experience great G forces during a race.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said in Rome he hopes Schumacher is physically up to the challenge, particularly the stress on his neck.
“But already today the entire team is working to prepare him,” he said. “Tomorrow he’ll have his first tests on the track.”
Schumacher will have little time to become accustomed to the Ferrari and new technology. Also, the Valencia course has been modified since Schumacher retired, and testing has been banned to save costs.
“He’s going to find himself on a circuit he’s never driven on, with a car he’s never driven, and with technology he doesn’t know,” Montezemolo said. “But, unfortunately, this is the price we have to pay.”
Schumacher’s return was welcome news to a sport hit by setbacks, including the withdrawal of two major manufacturers within less than a year. Honda pulled out after last season and BMW withdrew hours before Schumacher made his decision public.
The manufacturers have been feuding with administrators about cost-cutting moves and other rules in recent months. Television ratings have also been dropping in Germany, one of the sport’s top markets.
“This is the best thing that could happen to Formula One and it’s simply great for our sport,” Mercedes motor sports chief Norbert Haug said.
Former world champion Niki Lauda, a Ferrari alumnus, warned against huge expectations.
“He doesn’t know the circuit in Valencia, he doesn’t know the car, he is not allowed to do any test driving,” Lauda said. “These are tougher conditions than for his rivals. And on top, Ferrari doesn’t have a top car.”
World championship leader Jenson Button of Brawn GP expects Schumacher to challenge and described him as “brave” for coming out of retirement. Schumacher has been a Ferrari consultant since his retirement.
“Ferrari are very lucky because they have someone working in their team who can jump straight into the car and be competitive — and Michael will be,” Button said.