F-1 season ready to roll

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

As the sun rises on the 2010 Formula One world championship season, there are three things that are worth pondering from a Canadian perspective.

1. Can the Canadian Grand Prix — after a year in limbo — return to its exalted place as this country’s largest single-day sporting event?

2. Can Michael Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, win on the Grand Prix circuit after being retired for four years?

3. Can F-1 erase memories of the ugly, scandal-plagued season that was 2009?

The answer to the first question is probably. Canadians love motor racing and the prestige of hosting an F-1 event.

Grand Prix organizers aren’t leaving anything to chance, however, putting on a full-court press to entice customers back to the grandstands at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

Expect to see another 100,000 or more on race day in Montreal.

Schumacher’s success in a Mercedes this season isn’t so easy to predict. Regardless of his performance, he will go down as one of the greats — if not the greatest — off all F-1 champions.

As for Schumacher himself, he told a German newspaper recently that he feels a bit like a kid on Christmas eve waiting for Santa.

“The decision to make my comeback feels like a long time ago now and I can hardly wait for the season to get under way in Bahrain,” he said. “It’s funny to think I will be competing in Formula One again when just a few months ago, I would have categorically declined the opportunity.

“But sometimes things change and the right circumstances come together. Now I feel fresher than I have for many years.”

Schumacher admits that when he quit racing it was because he simply didn’t enjoy it anymore.

“When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty. Now they are totally recharged and I am ready for the challenge,” he said.

“It is the competition at the highest level that only Formula One offers which has provided the temptation for me.”

The 41-year-old German said that results from the Mercedes’ team tests at Barcelona last month proved to him that he could compete against the top drivers in F-1.

“The final test in Barcelona proved to us that we should be competitive,” he said. “It’s important to be in the leading group from the start of the season, and I am confident we will be there.”

Finally, the cheating scandals that rocked F-1 in 2009 will be much harder to overcome than missing a season in Montreal or getting rid of the race rust for Schumacher.

Already, disgraced former Renault boss Flavio Briatore is boasting he’ll be back in F-1 with a clean slate once he successfully appeals his part in fixing his team’s race in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

And just this week, Lewis Hamilton — anointed by many as the next Schumacher — said he was ready to quit racing after his brush with cheating at last season’s Australian Grand Prix.

“There was a lot to take on board after what had gone on,” he told the British media.

“I care about how people perceive me. It was a feeling of, ‘Shoot, maybe I shouldn’t be in the sport,’ rather than not in my team.

“This is my dream team and I am fortunate to have been here from the beginning. I never had a desire to drive for anyone else. So, it was not a desire to leave the team, just to stop racing. For a split second it was, ‘This is too much to take. How do I recover from this?’ ”

The whole sport is now in the position Hamilton found himself in after he admitted lying to Australian race stewards about his change of position during a safety-car period.

Whether both can recover this season will depend on what happens on the race tracks around the F-1 world.

Great racing will go a long way to making folks forget these most recent dark days.


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