Schumi as fast as ever

Michael Schumacher’s brief was to assess electronic systems which will be used next year when traction control systems, widely regarded as technical aids which make life too easy for the drivers, will no longer be permitted. By Alan Henry.

Michael Schumacher returned to front-line Formula One action when he got behind the wheel of one of this year’s world championship-winning Ferrari F2007s at the first of the winter test sessions at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.

The seven-times world champion, who had not driven a Grand Prix car in competitive action since rounding off his career in Brazil last year, impressed observers by setting the fastest time, more than 0.2sec quicker than the Italian team’s test driver, Luca Badoer, after 64 laps of the track.

Schumacher’s brief was to assess electronic systems which will be used next year when traction control systems, widely regarded as technical aids which make life too easy for the drivers, will no longer be permitted. There is no suggestion that the 38-year-old has any interest in a full-time racing return.

McLaren’s test driver, Pedro de la Rosa, was third quickest, more than seven-tenths of a second behind Schumacher. McLaren also worked with Britain’s Gary Paffett, and both are candidates to replace Fernando Alonso in the McLaren squad next year although the team reiterated that they were not close to naming a new partner for Lewis Hamilton.