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Gloomy Schumi faces up to failed Ferrari return

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F1 Mole | 18:01 UK time, Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Mole welcomes back BBC Formula 1 pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz to the blog as he reports from Switzerland on Michael Schumacher's aborted return to F1.

Had his injured neck allowed him, Michael Schumacher would have spent large parts of this week lapping the Mugello track in Tuscany in a two-year-old Ferrari.

Instead he was in the ballroom of a smart hotel near his home in Geneva, answering questions about one of the lowest points of his Formula 1 career. Alongside him were his long-time manager, Willi Weber, and his doctor of nine years, Johannes Peil.

Michael looked miserable. He started by saying how frustrated and sad he felt and how disappointed he was that he wasn't able to help Ferrari by standing in for the injured Felipe Massa. He then explained why.

Michael Schumacher faces up to the fact that he will not return for Ferrari in Valencia

It became clear Michael couldn't drive during last week's test in the 2007 Ferrari. He was suffering intense pain: a motorbike accident in Spain in February had left him with injuries including a broken rib and fractures to three vertebrae. They had all since healed.

But there was one remaining injury that had not healed, and it was the pain from that physical damage that made driving an F1 car impossible.

It was a tear in the left hand side ligament or tendon that links the base of the skull to the C1 or atlas - the first vertebrae at the top of the neck. Dr Peil said this tissue around the occipital atlas played a highly important role in protecting the brain.

That had not healed and that was giving Michael pain so strong he was not able to drive the car. Schumacher admitted that if he'd had only a small pain in the neck, he'd have treated it with painkillers and got on with driving.

But Schumacher and Dr Peil also had concerns that any accident Michael may have had into the wall in Valencia, or into the tyre barriers at the high-speed circuits of Spa or Monza, could further damage this area of the skull, leading to long-term injury. Damage to this area can lead to paralysis.

Dr Peil said the tear could take another six months or another 12 months to heal, or might never completely heal.

Because he couldn't say when his neck would be okay, Schumacher refused to completely rule out making a return to F1, but it looks unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Michael was clearly very upset at having to cancel his comeback. He had originally planned to say "no" to Ferrari's request that he stand in for Felipe Massa, but Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had convinced him to give it a go.

Once Michael had decided to drive, he became totally focused on doing the best job he could. Friends remarked on how fast he clicked back into the racing-driver mindset. Schumacher was quick in the test in Mugello, just a few tenths of a second off his previous best times.

Apart from the neck problems, Schumacher's doctor confirmed that he was in top physical shape. An intensive workout regime had resulted in him losing 4kg in weight, and the arm, shoulder and leg muscles were up to the job. It could have been a highly successful comeback.

After an hour and a quarter, the press conference came to a close. Michael thanked everyone for coming at short notice, stood up, had one last look around the room, puckered his lips up into another sad face, and left by a side door.

Having had this carrot dangled in front of him and then snatched away has clearly hurt Schumacher deeply. But while this was a frustratingly unfulfilled episode in his motor racing career, one can't help feeling that it's not the end of it.

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