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Michael Schumacher returns to Formula One as BMW announces exit

The retired seven-time champion will replace injured driver Felipe Massa for Ferrari. BMW says high costs drove its decision to withdraw, following Honda's lead.

July 30, 2009|Jim Peltz

Formula One was rocked by two developments Wednesday when seven-time champion Michael Schumacher said he would come out of retirement to drive again for Ferrari, and BMW announced it would leave the international racing series at season's end.

Ferrari and Schumacher, 40, confirmed speculation that he would temporarily replace driver Felipe Massa, who was seriously injured during qualifying for last weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix.

Schumacher retired after the 2006 season, having won five of his titles with Ferrari, which he continued to serve as a consultant and occasional test driver.

"For loyalty reasons to the team, I cannot ignore that unfortunate situation" with Massa, he said. "I also very much look forward to facing this challenge," the German driver said. Formula One's next event, the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, is Aug. 23. The race was added to the schedule only last year -- a race won by Massa -- and Schumacher has yet to race on that track.

Massa, a 28-year-old Brazilian who finished second to Lewis Hamilton in last year's championship battle, suffered head injuries when a loose part from a car struck his helmet in Hungary. Massa has shown steady improvement in a Budapest hospital but is expected to miss most, if not all, of the remainder of the season.

Meanwhile, BMW officials said the automaker would shut down the BMW Sauber team after this season so that it could use its Formula One budget in other areas. The team's drivers are Robert Kubica of Poland and Nick Heidfeld of Germany, who said on his website that BWM's decision was "totally unexpected."

The German company would become the second automaker to leave Formula One within a year.

Before the start of this season, Honda pulled out, citing Formula One's costs and the global slump in auto sales. The cost of fielding a top-tier Formula One team is estimated to be $200 million or more annually.

"Of course, this was a difficult decision for us," BMW Chairman Norbert Reithofer said. "But it's a resolute step in view of our company's strategic realignment."

BMW took over the Sauber team in 2006, and Kubica won the Canadian Grand Prix last year. But the team struggled this season, with neither Kubica nor Heidfeld among the top 10 drivers in the point standings.

BMW's planned withdrawal underlined concerns at the series' governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, that the sport's operating costs must be reduced sharply to retain existing teams and attract new ones.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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