RTL banking on Schumacher return

Betting on ratings win with favorite Formula One comeback

COLOGNE, Germany -- The surprise return of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher to Formula 1 car racing is certain to rev up ratings for German broadcaster RTL when Schumacher hits the track again next month.

Schumacher will climb back into the cockpit Aug. 23 for Ferrari, replacing driver Felipe Massa, who was severely injured in a crash last week.

The comeback is temporary -- Schumacher is expected to make way for Massa at the end of the season. But RTL is still betting on a major ratings boost because, for RTL viewers, Schumacher is the equivalent of nitroglycerin in the tank.

Some 13.4 million Germans tuned in to watch his last race in 2006 and RTL's ratings for the sport have never been higher than when local hero "Schumi" was behind the wheel.

"He's an absolute audience magnet, no doubt about it," said RTL spokeswoman Heike Schultz. "These are tragic circumstances with Massa's injury and no one would have wished this to happen. But we do expect the ratings to be way up for his comeback."

RTL could use some good news. The network has been hit hard by Germany's advertising slump and the recent reports have been grim -- whether it's RTL shutting down its in-house drama department or embarrassing delays in the building of a new corporate headquarters.

Schumacher alone won't get RTL back on track. But for a while at least, both driver and network will have the opportunity to relive their glory days.