Michael Schumacher – back in Formula 1?
That is the word this weekend, thanks to an article in Bild, the German equivalent of the Sun.
There are two possible sources of this story – for as long as I can remember Bild has been Willi Weber’s favourite method of leaking stories. Weber is Schumacher’s manager. But Mercedes’ boss Norbert Haug has also been known to let things out through that route.
“The contract is ready to be signed,” said Bild, referring to the one year deal, supposedly agreed between the two sides.
Bild says that the announcement will come next week and if it does it will surprise most people in F1, me included; it’s hard to see what’s in it for Schumacher apart from getting some middle-aged kicks.
There is plenty in it for Mercedes and for Bernie Ecclestone and it would be a disaster for Ferrari, who will lose 15 years of expensively acquired brand association to a rival car company.
And on that side, there are some details here which don’t quite add up. Ferrari recently agreed a three year deal with Schumacher, although this has yet to be signed, we are told. But I know for a fact that there are separate contracts in place with Ferrari sponsors, which would clash with a Mercedes deal. As late as the end of last week those sponsors had not been approached about releasing Schumacher from his obligations.
This is perhaps the purpose and timing of the Bild story, to present a fait accompli to Schumacher’s existing employers. It’s the ‘moment of truth’ and it looks like both Schumacher and Mercedes are up for it. So now it’s a question of whether his employers are up for letting him go quietly.
Ever since Jenson Button made the dramatic decision to quit Brawn Mercedes and move to McLaren, Ross Brawn and his team have been looking for a response.
There is an old saying, “In F1 you are either taking pain or giving it,” and when Brawn pinched Mercedes, McLaren responded vigorously, by seducing their champion driver. He was ripe for it, as Brawn was not giving him what he wanted, having lost a bit of faith in the driver after his mid season wobbles.
One of the Brawn management figures said to me, “As one door closes, another one opens up,” and this is what has led to the evaluation of drafting in Michael Schumacher. It involved Schumacher testing his fitness and no doubt lengthy discussions with Ross Brawn; between these men there are no secrets.
This will not hit McLaren where it hurts, this is about saving face for Mercedes.
Schumacher must know that and it is odd in many ways that a seven times world champion is prepared to offer himself up to be played in that way. Schumacher always set the agenda in his career, he made people bend to his will.
The Button door had to close before the Schumacher door opened up.
Damon Hill has suggested that a comeback year offers Schumacher the chance to improve his image, but what’s done is done and it’s hard to see what he could do this year to change that.
Button is quoted in today’s News of the World saying that Schumacher is on a hiding to nothing by coming back. Implicit in this is a veiled insinuation that the Mercedes car may not be the pace setter next season.
“Schumacher coming back to F1 is great news for the sport,” Button said, “But I don’t know if it will be great news for Michael Schumacher. He will be putting his reputation on the line coming back into the sport.”
Lance Armstrong has come back this year in a much more physically demanding sport and done well. He is not at the peak of his earlier career, but he’s enjoying himself. This may well have influenced Schumacher, who has appeared bored by life without racing since he stopped.
Meanwhile Schumacher’s former Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa is to have another test in the 2007 Ferrari before Christmas, which is permitted under testing restrictions.