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Lauda on Schumacher: the hunger for competition never dies 07 Aug 2009

Niki Lauda (AUT).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, German Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 12 July 2009 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 10 May 2009 Niki Lauda(AUT), McLaren MP4-2, 2nd place. Dutch GP, Zandvoort, 26 August 1984 Niki Lauda (AUT).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Turkish Grand Prix, Race Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Sunday, 7 June 2009

The 2009 Formula One season has already had its fair share of major stories, but all are set to be surpassed by Michael Schumacher’s planned comeback in the forthcoming European Grand Prix, replacing Felipe Massa. One man who knows all about comebacks is Niki Lauda, who walked away from the sport in 1979, only to return two seasons later and ultimately win a third world title. We got his take on Schumacher’s prospects…

Q: Niki, what was the reason for your return and what do you think is Michael’s?
Niki Lauda:
Let’s leave aside my reasons - that’s all too long ago and they definitely were different from his. Let’s focus on Michael. He was never able to detox himself of the racing bug, as we have seen with his on-track motorcycle activities. In my opinion he retired at the end of the 2006 season because he couldn’t see a real challenge - and probably he regretted his decision. Now he’s got the unique chance to step in for the injured Massa to help his former team, and to find out for himself how competitive he still is. This is something that would also interest me, because this hunger for competition - for the adrenalin rush - never dies. It’s in our DNA. And the situation as it is now at Ferrari, with a recovering Massa and an available cockpit, gives him the chance to explore how far he’s off the top. That is a question that always puzzles a top driver like he was.

Q: What about his age? When you returned to the Formula One cockpit you were 31 years old - Michael is 40…
Forget about the age. He is fit, he’s undergoing rigorous training and mentally he is taking up the challenge. He will do everything possible to be fit as a fiddle in Valencia. True, there are some obstacles that he has to overcome, like his unfamiliarity with the track and that he’s had no chance to test this year’s car, but that’s part of his challenge and that’s why he’s doing it. And that’s why the whole world will be watching.

Q: Fitness plays a major role. Michael was exercising all the time - how was it with you back then?
Yes, Michael has tried to retain as much as possible his fitness from his race days. Look, he was able to put in a whole day in the old car in Mugello a few days ago. With me it was different. I hadn’t done anything for two years and when I did my first test in October 1981 I hardly managed three laps. That was a sharp signal for me that I’d better start improving my fitness immediately if my return to Formula One was not to end as a farce. So this was a whole different situation to the one that Michael is in. Basically, he has to focus mainly on the muscles that are called on in an F1 car - and, of course, the neck - but that should be manageable in the next two weeks. But in the end the final word will be with the doctors, to decide whether he is in the physical state to race.

Q: You became world champion again in your third year back from retirement. What do you think Michael can achieve?
I actually won the second race back after my retirement, but Michael is not racing for any championship. I came back because I wanted to win, if my comeback was successful. For Michael it’s nothing more than an interesting experiment.

Q: How long will his guest appearance last?
Only as long as Massa is in his recovery process. Period.