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Will Schumi Stay or Go?

With the midpoint of the season upon us, and Michael Schumacher’s comeback efforts still stuck in the doldrums, paddock wags are beginning to speculate whether or not the German ace will return next year.  Granted, Schumacher is on a three-year contract, but as everyone who follows Formula 1 knows, contracts are made to be broken.

Two F1 notables who are never shy about expressing an opinion have launched an informal odds-making process by betting that Schumacher will be absent from the grid next March.

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Eccleston recently told City A.M., “If Schumacher doesn’t perform I doubt whether he will want to stay. He is obviously fit, motivated and talented but the car hasn’t been up to him.”

There are some who would hold that this ia a charitable view.  After all, Schumi’s team mate Nico Rosberg, who has been consistently beating him, recently insisted that the underperforming Mercedes W01 was much improved.  Perhaps the fault lies not with the car but with the driver.  There was a time when Schumacher was able to flatter a difficult car.  Whatever the special magic was that he seemed to have during those years, it seems to have deserted him now.

The second F1 luminary to weigh in on the Schumacher situation is three-time world champ Sir Jackie Stewart, who recently told Express, “I would have preferred to have seen Michael not come back.  Why did he do it? He had achieved everything and could only lose. In my opinion, he retired too early – he should have stayed another two years with Ferrari, and I have no idea why he didn’t.”

Asked to speculate on Schumacher’s future, Stewart said, “Now he’s in a difficult situation and has to live with the criticism. The first question should be ‘will he do another year?’ I believe he will stop after this season. What does his heart say? I will believe it only when I see him on the starting grid in March.”

Whether Schumacher stays or goes is still open to debate.  Recently he has been lobbying the team to begin focusing on the 2011 iteration of their car.  This is not the attitude of a man who considering bailing on his contract.  It’s also true that Schumacher returned to active racing, in part, because he missed the challenge it offered.  Why else would he have engaged in various other substitute activities such as motorcycle racing, Race of Champions events and karting?

Clearly, being a poster boy for Ferrari road cars, and serving time at the occasional race as a “consultant” (which he later revealed bored him senseless) wasn’t filling the void.  He craved racing, and racing at the pinnacle of the sport. Jackie Stewart is right in one respect: Schumacher retired too soon.  He could have stayed at Ferrari, but it would have been at the expense of Felipe Massa, as the Scuderia were keen to bring Kimi Raikkonen on board — an ironic twist considering that the Maranello brain trust let the Kimster out of his contract a year early to make way for an early replacement, i.e. one Fernando Alonso.

Some said the Schumacher didn’t relish the idea of racing along side of Raikkonen, which now seems laughable, as Felipe Massa, for the most part, had the laconic Finn’s measure.  Perhaps if Schumacher had raced through 2008 he would’ve gotten it out of his system.  He very likely would have won the title in 2007, a feat which a lackluster Raikkonen manged to pull off by a single, shaky point.

My own opinion is that Schumacher, much as he might be losing face at running mid-pack, scrapping with Toro Rossos and Renaults, will make a good faith effort to honor his contract.  He wanted a challenge, and he’s got one.  But there would be more ignominy inherent in giving up now than there would be in carrying on and achieving less than consistently stellar results.

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