The rumours around the possible return of Michael Schumacher to Formula 1 with Mercedes continue to swirl, but Ferrari remain calm and expect the seven times world champion to stay with them for the next three years as a consultant.
However, what many commentators are overlooking is that Schumacher’s deal with Ferrari is not confined to his consultancy role on the road car side and the F1 team, he also has obligations with Ferrari sponsors, particularly Shell, for whom he is a valuable asset and there are programmes in place for 2010.
At Ferrari they are treating the latest rumours with a relaxed attitude. No-one from Schumacher’s side has come to them asking to be released and those who worked closely with the German during his time there do not believe that he would want to put himself back into the hurly burly of a full time F1 race role, especially with a brand like Mercedes, which would require a huge amount of promotional days from him.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said the other day, “If he wanted to leave (to race in F1) we would not stop him,” but privately the people at Maranello are expecting to work with Schumacher for another three years and would be astonished if he were to commit himself to a return to full time racing.
Schumacher raced in a kart event in Las Vegas last weekend and his doctor Johannes Peil has said that his neck will be back to 100% fitness and strength by Christmas.
Schumacher is enjoying his occasional racing outings at the moment; he won the Nations Cup at the Race of Champions with Sebastian Vettel and said last weekend, “I still, after all those years, have a lot of fun driving – and surprisingly I was even quite successful at these sporadic entries. I simply enjoy this pureness in karting, the direct fights, the duels wheel-to-wheel.”
By not coming out and denying the Mercedes stories, Schumacher and Mercedes boss Norbert Haug are keeping themselves in positive headlines, building to fever pitch in Germany, which keeps the Schumacher brand strong and neutralises the damage caused to Mercedes by Jenson Button’s defection to McLaren. Weber is actively fanning the rumours and there is a feeling that this is a giant game.
Meanwhile sources close to the WRC suggest that Kimi Raikkonen is close to agreeing a deal with Citroen to compete in next year’s world championship, so the prospect of a Mercedes line up of Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld is gaining momentum. But Ross Brawn has said that the team is on no hurry to sign a second driver and with the Qadbak takeover of Sauber still to be confirmed, Heidfeld doesn’t have any other pressing options.