The former world champion Niki Lauda called for Michael Schumacher to make an unexpected return to Formula One racing as a replacement for the injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa.

Schumacher, the seven-times world champion, retired in 2006, but Lauda said he is the best candidate to take Massa’s seat after the Brazilian suffered a freak accident in qualifying for the Hungarian grand prix.

Who is available? There is nobody available anywhere near Michael’s performance,” said Lauda before today’s race at the Hungaroring.

Ferrari are almost certain to need a replacement for Massa after the 28-year-old suffered a serious head injury when struck on the head by debris yesterday. Massa was in a stable condition after emergency surgery to multiple skull fractures, but will be kept under sedation for the next 48 hours.

Lauda, who in 1976 returned to racing after a near-fatal crash, believes it will be two to three months before Massa can consider racing again.

He needs to take a decision, and for the whole business of Formula One, he [Schumacher] would improve it by 20 to 30 per cent interest,” added the Austrian. “But this is a question nobody can answer because nobody knows what Schumacher is doing.

Lauda, who won two world titles with Ferrari, questioned whether the Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had any more favourable options.

Who else is he going to ring? The test drivers are useless, and there is nobody else here if you think about it,” said the 60-year-old. “But this is a principal decision of him [Schumacher], for him to consider this. If he doesn’t want to, the idea is finished in the same second.

Schumacher’s manager Willi Weber told Germany’s SID news agency that he doubted the champion would consider coming back. “I don’t see it,” he said. “Ferrari have two good test drivers who are keen to sit in the car if it is available.

The 38-year-old Italian Luca Badoer, who failed to score a point in 49 races for Scuderia Italia, Minardi and Forti between 1993 and 1999, and 35-year-old Spaniard Marc Gené are Ferrari’s official reserve drivers.

DRIVER STANDINGS

  1. Jenson Button 70
  2. Mark Webber 51.5
  3. Sebastian Vettel 47
  4. Rubens Barrichello 44
  5. Nico Rosberg 25.5
  6. Jarno Trulli 22.5
  7. Felipe Massa 22
  8. Lewis Hamilton 19
  9. Kimi Räikkönen 18
  10. Timo Glock 16