The return of seven times Formula One champion Michael Schumacher to competitive racing dominated headlines across all types of media in Germany on Thursday.
In a country that has learned to love Formula One mainly because of the success of Schumacher, his comeback generated headlines sprinkled with superlatives.
“The God of racing has come back. The legend will drive again,” read Bild newspaper’s headline, welcoming Schumacher back into Ferrari in the place of injured driver Felipe Massa.
The German, now 40 years old, retired from Formula One at the end of 2006 but is expected to make his comeback in Valencia, Spain, next month because Brazilian Massa sustained a fractured skull during last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
Schumacher is adored by millions in Germany, his popularity at least on par with the likes of retired tennis player Steffi Graf and soccer great Franz Beckenbauer.
“Schumacher steps on the gas again,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
His brother Ralf, also a former Formula One driver said, his comeback could not have come at a better time, especially given the negative headlines surrounding Formula One in the past months.
“He was itching to come back. But no one expected that,” Ralf Schumacher told German television station N-24. “After all the bad headlines on the sport recently this is absolutely great. Nothing better could have happened for Formula One than my brother coming back.”
Schumacher’s return will certainly boost the Formula One’s popularity in Germany from his very first race in Spain.
“After Schumacher retired I stopped watching F1. Now I will start again,” said Beckenbauer, expressing the sentiment of many of his compatriots.
People in his hometown of Kerpen were equally excited.
“I think this is great,” said local resident Marie Nimts. “I hope he shows them again what he’s got. I also do not think he’s too old for it.”
Ferrari-mad Italian newspapers were thrilled by the news but Schumacher was knocked off top billing by Federica Pellegrini’s heroics at the world swimming championships where she set a world record to win the 200 metres freestyle title.
“It’s Schumacher’s turn!,” raved Gazzetta dello Sport adding that his comeback was “amazing”.