Nothing gets the sporting press as excited as the prospect of a former champion coming out of retirement. When it's a race driver, the motoring press jumps on it too. So it's no surprise, then, that the rumors of Mika Hakkinen's purported return to Formula One have been spreading like margarine.
The Finnish driver (please, no finish-line jokes) won the title two years running in '98 and '99 behind the wheel of a McLaren, before retiring in 2001. He began driving again for Mercedes-Benz (McLaren's engine partner) in DTM (German touring cars), but Hakkinen's been seen getting in and out of the cockpit of McLaren formula race cars several times this year, leading to speculation that he could be coming back to drive for McLaren.
The rumors could very well be true. McLaren's two drivers have both left the team: Kimi Raikkonen (another talented Finnish driver) to Ferrari and Juan Pablo Montoya for NASCAR. World champ Fernando Alonso joins the McLaren line-up for next year, but the team has yet to announce their second driver. Test driver Pedro de la Rosa could get the job; so could protégé Lewis Hamilton. But some have speculated that McLaren chief Ron Dennis would rather go with a tested-and-true champion like Hakkinen. (Another interesting piece to the puzzle is Hakkinen's recent appointment by McLaren sponsor Johnnie Walker as its ambassador for responsible driving.)
Mika and Ron are known to have stayed close even after Hakkinen's retirement, opening the door to a number of alternative explanations: Mika might have simply gotten the urge to drive an F1 car again, for nostalgia. Ron might have asked Mika to give his old team some developmental feedback on the car while they wait for Alonso to be released from his Renault contract. Or maybe, just maybe, Dennis is trying to keep Pedro and Lewis on their toes with the mere suggestion that neither one of them is guaranteed the seat (and doing a damn fine job at it, too).
Hakkinen might be pushing 38, but he was widely regarded as Schumacher's greatest rival (including by Michael himself). And who knows what Mika might accomplish with Schumi now retired.