As if the paddock pundits had nothing better to do, they’re back at it again speculating about Michael Schumacher’s future. The latest round of gossip was sparked by comments by former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan. Jordan, who is currently an F1 analyst for the BBC, famously predicted last year that Schumi would end up joining the Mercedes team. This bit of prognostication was based on nothing more than his sighting of Schumi, Rosss Brawn and Merc racing boss Norbert Haug sharing a table and hoisting a few Red Bulls together at Abu Dhabi. Or were they drinking Monster?
In any event, EJ’s prediction seemed wide of the mark initially, but in the end it was on the money. Now, based on similar sightings, Jordan is convinced Schumi is ready to hang up his spurs again. “I’ve a hunch something fundamental has changed,” Jordan said. “I believe he is disillusioned and thinking of quitting. There are too many indications that now give me the feeling he is reconsidering his commitment to his three-year contract. There is far too much movement in the Mercedes motorhome involving managers from drivers from other teams.”
While I don’t doubt the observation, I do have my doubts about the conclusions that Jordan has drawn. For one thing, it’s not at all unusual for management teams to be sniffing about for opportunities, especially if they’ve been listening to rumors started by one Eddie Jordan. Also, Mercedes currently has no reserve driver, since Nick Heidfeld left, first to join Pirelli as a tester, and then, shortly thereafter, to replace Pedro de la Rosa and Sauber. It’s entirely possible that the aforementioned management teams are shopping candidates for the reserve slot.
Jordan hasn’t implied that Schumi’s own mediocre performance thus far is at the root of his supposed plans to cut and run. Instead, Jordan insists that Schumacher has become disenchanted with the Mercedes chassis, which now sees as something less than a title-contender.
Also, according to EJ, Schumacher has received a culture shock. After making a brusque move against former team mate Rubens Barrichello at the Hungaroring, nearly putting Rubinho into the wall on the front straight, Schumacher was roundly criticized. Former Ferrari and McLaren pilor Gerhard Berger was perhaps alone in offering a reminder that some 15 years ago, when he actively raced against Schumacher, such moves were commonplace. Not so now, in an era of genteel driver etiquette. Even the gentlemanly Sebastian Vettel, who only crashes into his rivals by accident (unlike the great Aytron Senna, who would do so to prove a point), is considered wantonly reckless.
The net result in this paradigm shift, supposedly, is that Schumi is hugely disillusioned. Admittedly it does seem as though Schumacher has been defending his line less aggressively since Hungary. Nevertheless, I think it’s premature to assume that he’s ready to walk away from the sport in a sulk. Schumacher is analytical and adaptable and likely he has simply taken note of the F1 culture shift, internalized it, and moved on.
As for the possibility that Schumi has lost patience with the whole endeavor, Schumacher’s spokesperson Sabine Kehm has pointed out that when the German ace joined Mercedes he didn’t expect immediate miracles, either from himself or the car. It was for that very reason that he signed a three year contract. Also, it would seem very out of character for Schumacher to quit now. If he didn’t have something to prove when he first made his comeback, he does now. And he would likely face a greater loss of face by failing to see out his contract than he would if he by sticking it out, even if he never wins another grand prix.
Ross Brawn has said categorically that the team plans no driver changes for 2011. While such statements generally have a half-life of a few seconds in Formula 1, this is a more definitive statement than Brawn was willing to make at this time last year, when, as it turned out, both of the team’s drivers, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, were very much on the bubble. So it’s reasonable to assume that he means what he says. On the other hand, he also denied that Schumacher would be joining the Mercedes team almost up until the moment it was officially announced. So draw your own conclusions.