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Wednesday, October 13, 1999 Published at 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK

A twist in the championship tale

Michael Schumacher is back and raring to go

BBC Motor Racing Correspondent Jonathan Legard looks forward to Michael Schumacher's intriguing return at this weekend's first Malaysian Grand Prix.

From Silverstone to Sepang, from rehabilitation to remarkable recovery.

Michael Schumacher's racing return has twisted this championship tale when it appeared to have turned sour for Ferrari.

[ image: Eddie Irvine will be relying on Schmacher help]
Eddie Irvine will be relying on Schmacher help
And F1's first foray into Malaysia couldn't have wished for a better drawing card: The sport's biggest name on the comeback trail in the penultimate race of the season.

The circuit, purpose built some 40 miles south of Kuala Lumpur, is a temple to technology.

The pit complex is the most sophisticated in the world including 30 garages, air conditioned offices and the latest in microchip gadgetry.

There's also an on-site shopping mall and a spectacular double-sided grandstand capable of holding 30,000 spectators.

With Schumacher now among the cast list, the £70m construction bill already looks like money well spent.

Lacking fitness

The world will be watching and waiting for answers.

  • Will he come roaring out of the garage like the Michael of old?
  • Will his leg, knee and heel, so painful until recently withstand the vibrations and workload of a full race weekend?
  • How will he cope with the heat and humidity?
  • Will he be driven by self preservation or is his trademark self belief still intact?
  • How his role in the team changed in his absence?
  • Which title matters more - the Constructors' for the team or the Drivers' for Eddie Irvine??
  • Above all, why did he change his mind not to return until 2000 when he'd been so adamant only a week ago that his fitness was lacking?

He'd even admitted he'd scared himself when he went off in testing at Mugello. And how often have you heard a racing driver do that, let alone one called Michael Schumacher?

One major consolation is that the Sepang circuit is unknown territory. None of the drivers have driven there so nobody can claim an advantage.

The new surface should be baby-bottom smooth and therefore kinder within the cockpit.

Nonetheless the risks remain the same. Ask Olivier Panis what it's like to race with a steel pin in your leg, knowing that your next accident could be your last.

If Schumacher is as ready as he says, and if he's as willing to assist Eddie Irvine as he says, then Mika Hakkinen and McLaren will need to be wheel perfect.

No tears, no tyrebursts, no pitstop muddles. David Coulthard has to become Hakkinen's best friend and ally.

[ image: Heinz-Harald Frentzen has put himself into the championship reckoning]
Heinz-Harald Frentzen has put himself into the championship reckoning
Interestingly Johnny Herbert, winner in the chaos of the Nurburgring a fortnight ago, predicts Heinz-Harald Frentzen will be a front row starter with a chance of nosing his way back into the title race.

Coming from a man who got it so famously right when others got it so badly wrong, Herbert is worth listening to.

But Schumacher could easily upset those calculations.

Without doubt his return will galvanise Ferrari. He always makes a difference to the car's performance.

He usually affects his rivals too. McLaren are sure to be looking down the pitlane more nervously than if Mika Salo was in car no 3.

It's a fact that Hakkinen could wrap up the title in Malaysia if Irvine fluffs again.

But it's my hunch that if Schumacher's up to scratch, then Suzuka beckons for another winner-takes-all finale.

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In this section

Toyota set to join F1

Irvine's $2m miss

Hakkinen crowned F1 champion

Finn toasts team success

1999 Championship standings

Ferrari dream in tatters

F1's emotional champion

Dreams shattered in Irvine's home village

Grand Prix's favourite son

Mika's glory: Japanese GP in pictures

Top cat Eddie

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Damon Hill: An F1 career in pictures

Silverstone to stage F1 Easter parade