AUGUST 9, 1999
Schumacher under the knife again
Normally after such an accident a driver is asked whether he wishes to have pins inserted and thus speed up the healing process in the knowledge that they may become a problem later on. This happened to Olivier Panis in Montreal in 1997 but he did not have a second operation to remove the pins until the end of 1998 and there is no doubt that this did affect his performance last year. In having the pins removed after only a month Schumacher's doctors have shown that his bones are healing well and have recognized that there may be long-term implications if the pins are not removed quickly.
While Schumacher cannot hold out much hope of winning the World Championship this year he does not wish to damage his chances in 2000. At the same time Mika Hakkinen's failure to score many points in recent races means that Michael is still only 12 points behind the McLaren-Mercedes driver in the World Championship and while it would not be possible to close the 20 point gap to Irvine, it is not impossible that he could finish runner-up to his team-mate, particularly if Hakkinen fails to get good results in Hungary and Belgium. It is a long shot but if Michael were to finish second to Irvine in the WorldÊChampionship he would be able to claim moral victory in the title which, while not counting for much, would detract from Irvine's achievement. This would be useful for Ferrari as Irvine looks likely to take the number one with him to Jaguar. One way or the other, a late-season charge from Schumacher will do no harm for his reputation, for the F1 TV ratings and for Ferrari sales.
The Ferrari team says that Michael will not be back before the Italian Grand Prix at the earliest and this is realistic as, in addition to needing the time for the bones to knit together properly, Schumacher needs to allow for the injury on his foot to heal as this is currently restricting his movements. Even if this does not affect his driving it would make it hard for him to pass the FIA test which insists that a driver must be able to get out of his cockpit within five seconds.