Speculation continues to swirl around the second seat at Mercedes GP. Nico Rosberg was confirmed today for one of the seats, although this move had been an open secret for several weeks. Who will partner him, however, remains a mystery.
Since Jenson Button announced his switch to McLaren for next year, several names have been mentioned as a possible replacement, including Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil. Many observers assume that Mercedes is targeting an all German lineup. Nico Rosberg, son of Finnish driver Keke Rosberg, is actually German, as are Heidfeld, Schumacher and Sutil.
Kimi Raikkonen has more or less taken himself out of the picture. Even though his manager Steve Robertson has paid lip service to Raikkonen’s being open to a competitve offer, Raikkonen has said on more than one occasion that he saw McLaren as his only real alternative, and barring a deal with the Woking team materializing (which never happened), he would probably turn to rally racing in the WRC for 2010.
There has also been much speculation about Michael Schumacher, and public statements made by various people close to the German ace have only made the issue murkier. Asa reported in The Telegraph, Schumacher’s manager, Willi Weber said, “I know that Michael spoke with Dieter Zetsche [CEO of Daimler AG] and Norbert Haug [vice president of motor sport at Mercedes] at the season’s finale in Abu Dhabi.”
Observers often read too much (or too little) into such trackside meetings between key figures of rival teams, so it’s difficult to know whether such the three men were hammering out a master plan for the coming season, or were simply trying to sort out their lunch menu.
Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher’s personal spokesperson, Sabine Kehm, said recently that a comeback by the German ace was “highly unlikely at the moment.”
However, in an alternate report in The Times, she said, somewhat more equivocally, “My personal opinion has really not changed. I can see lots of tempting things in it for Michael, but I can also see a lot of non-tempting things. I don’t know. It is as it was in August when you couldn’t tell what was going to happen. Then I was convinced Michael would never come back and, suddenly, all the circumstances were right for him. I still think it is unlikely, but you never know.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn recently appeared at a joint press conference with team executive Nick Fry and Norbert Haug to confirm Nico Rosberg’s hiring. All three men were questioned about the persistent Schumacher rumors. As reported on Autosport.com, Brawn said, “The issue now haunts the media, I know, but there is nothing in it. The media are trying to put together a dream. Michael would have returned to the cockpit for Ferrari, but only temporarily. He has no ambitions to start a new career.”
That remark would seem to be definitive. However, when Norbert Haug was asked to categorically deny that Schumacher was in the picture for the Mercedes drive, he replied, somewhat more evasively, “When will you ever say categorically anything in F1? Ross made it quite clear and I really have nothing to add.”
When Nick Fry was asked to address the same issue, he responded, “I’ve got nothing to add to that. We are here today to talk about Nico Rosberg and we should stick with that subject. Ross has answered the question extremely well.”
Fry also indicated that they would probably announce Jenson Button’s replacement before Christmas. “It obviously would have been ideal to announce them together but that’s impossible,” he said. “We don’t have huge time pressure at the moment, but once one goes beyond Christmas and into the new year it becomes slightly more difficult with seat fits in time for the engineers to talk to the driver. I would hope on the other driver to do it before Christmas purely for logistical reasons.”
Ross Brawn has indicated that he’d prefer to have two experienced drivers on the team, which would rule out bringing a rookie on board. There aren’t that many experienced drivers on the grid currently who have proven themselves capable of running at the front. If neither Raikkonen nor Schumacher is an option, the next most likely choice would seem to be either Nick Heidfeld or Adrian Sutil, both Germans. And clearly, if an offer had been made to either one of these drivers, the offer would have been accepted in a heartbeat. Therefore, it’s easy to conclude that an offer hasn’t been made. Why not? Perhaps another offer is already in play – for Herr Schumacher.
A likely scenario would seem to be that Mercedes have actually made him an offer, and Schumacher has told them that he’d think about it, and give them an answer before year’s end. Brawn’s categorical statement could be merely a statement of opinion regarding Schumacher’s final answer. If the answer is no, very likely a plan B is already in the works.