Formula One's Comeback Story

By Emerson Fittipaldi

The 2010 formula one season-opener in Bahrain marks the return of perhaps the greatest athlete to ever compete in the sport: after a three-year retirement Michael Schumacher, the former Ferrari star and seven-time world champion, has joined the Mercedes GP team at the age of 41. He will face a slew of new rules designed to keep the sport's skyrocketing costs under control and compete against great drivers roughly half his age, such as 22-year-old Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel. Other top contenders include Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber; two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, now with Ferrari; Alonso's teammate Felipe Massa; and the McLaren team, which recruited last year's champion, Jenson Button, to join 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton.

His return will be good for Formula One, on par with Michael Jordan's return to the Chicago Bulls in 1995. Schumacher's name alone draws tremendous interest from fans throughout the world, as well as from the press. But the big question is whether Schumacher can win again. In my view, he can. Like Schumacher, I retired from the sport for a few years only to return later, and I found that the motivation to compete came from the knowledge that there were new competitors, and that the challenge was both in winning and in proving that I could defeat athletes far younger than me. I also learned, as Schumacher undoubtedly already knows, that experience and strategy can trump any advantage a younger driver might have. In fact, the rule changes, which include prohibiting refueling during pitstops and banning testing between races, favor more experienced drivers. The rules force F1 pilots to focus on strategy rather than allowing the technology to do all the work. What's more, Schumacher seems to have maintained the level of physical fitness that will be crucial to winning. Experience counts a lot. But drivers also need the stamina to win. At a February test run in Valencia, Spain, he came in third and declared after 82 laps that his return thus far has "been much easier than I anticipated." Perhaps, but the real test begins in Bahrain.

Fittipaldi--the only driver in the world to have won two Formula One world championships, an Indy Car championship, and the Indy 500 twice--is a founding member of the Laureus World Sports Academy ­(laureus.com), a group of the 46 greatest living sports legends.