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Schumacher-to-Mercedes Rumors Gather Steam

Michael Schumacher - next stop Silver Arrows?

Michael Schumacher - next stop Silver Arrows?

It looks increasingly likely that Michael Schumacher will make a return to Formula 1 for a one-year deal with Mercedes.  At age 41 (which he’ll be next month), it’s unlikely that Schumacher would be interested in returning to the sport for an extended stay.  What does seem clear, however, is that he still craves competition.  He still goes kart racing frequently, and has been pariticipating in the Race of Champions every year since his retirement.

As reported on BBC Sport, Mercedes team executive Nick Fry said about the prospect of Schumacher’s joining the Silver Arrows, “He would be very good for our team.  The view from inside F1, not just my team, is they all hope it will happen. I can’t tell you at this stage, unfortunately.  A number of drivers are still available if Michael were to decide not to drive. Then there are alternatives that we would be happy to go with.”

So clearly, this is more than just an idle rumor at this stage, if Nick Fry is speaking that way.

Also Nico Rosberg, who has already been confirmed for Mercedes, claimed that he would welcome Schumacher as a team mate. In a promotional video that he filmed for Mercedes in Abuu Dhabi, he said, “I hope that my team mate will be sorted out pretty soon and at the moment the rumours are very strong for Michael Schumacher. I have no idea if it is true or not but obviously if he would join that would be an absolutely fantastic move.”  It seems unlikely that he would make that kind of remark, in that context, if there weren’t substance to the rumors.

And today it was reported in The Guardian that Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Fiat and Ferrari, said puiblicly that he would not stand in the way of Schumacher’s racing for Mercedes.  When asked if Schumacher’s new 3-year consultancy deal with Ferrari would be an impediment, Montezemolo replied, “No, it’s not binding.”

Apparently, the agreement is only a verbal one at this point, which makes it something less than a contract, although something more than unenforceable.  In other words, while there’s no contract to unwind, Ferrari could hold Schumacher legally acountable for any verbal assurances he’d made, if they chose to.  In light of Montezemolo’s recent statement, however, Ferrari’s attitude on the matter seems clear.

Montezemolo elaborated by saying, “It’s clear that if he decides to take another road our agreement will no longer be valid, that is logical. You can’t work with a competitor and with us at the same time. I still haven’t spoken to him about it. He is only a dear friend, not a team member. He is a consultant for our road cars.”

The current thinking is that Schumacher’s return would be for a single bridge year.  Mercedes’ target for the long-term is thought to be Sebastian Vettel, who is currently tied to Red Bull for the next two years.  According to this theory, Mercedes will move heaven and earth during the coming season to break Vettel free from his Red Bull contract a year early, so he’d be free to replace Schumacher in 2011.

If this is true, it explains a lot.  It means that Mercedes never really felt an urgency to retain Jenson Button in 2010, because they probably had it in mind to replace him anyway once Vettel was available.  Once Button flew the coop, they were left in the lurch, however. Nico Rosberg is highly rated, but he’s not seen as being on a par with the likes of Hamilton or Alonso – or Schumacher.  Mercedes will need a driver who can be an effective team leader, and also a skilled development driver, if they’re to maintain their edge next year.  Hence, the inspiration to draft Schumacher for a single year.

Also, the single-year premise could supply Schumacher with a convenient rationale for making his return.  He wouldn’t really be trying to launch a second career, he’d merely be helping out his old friend and colleague Ross Brawn for a limited period of time, much in the same spirit as his highly touted, but ultimately aborted, fill-in stint for Felipe Massa in 2009.

Image by Gunnar Richter, licensed through Creative Commons.

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