Michael Schumacher and the Future
Now that the last wheel has turned on the 2006 season, the re-shuffles have begun in earnest and speculation is rife as everyone tries to work out what will happen next year. McLaren are hard at work designing a new car specifically for Alonso, Flavio Briatore is looking back over his king-making career and assuring us that the next one will be Heikki Kovalainen, Ferrari are about to announce their biggest shake-up since Michael’s arrival.
In all of this, Michael has remained enigmatic over whatever plans he has for the future. Personally, I believe him when he says that he really doesn’t know what he will be doing in a few months’ or years’ time. He is taking the usual retiree route of getting away from it all, relaxing into the leisure of not having a schedule and generally enjoying life. Who can blame him? The man has concentrated all of his energies, determination, talent and time into F1 for years; he has earned a break.
You can bet that his thoughts will return to racing eventually, however, and he admits as much in an interview reported to Autosport magazine. He has seen how others like Lauda and Hakkinen have returned to racing after a time and knows that the same might happen to him. But he is talking about two or three years down the line; what will he do in the meantime?
We know that his relationship with Ferrari will continue – that has been repeated many times. Most seem to think that he will serve in a public relations capacity, allowing Ferrari to capitalize on his fame and popularity. But I don’t think this will be enough for Michael.
Take a look at the rumors surrounding Ferrari’s re-shuffle (and they are becoming stronger all the time): Ross Brawn is almost definitely going to take a year off, Jean Todt is slated for promotion to company president and Stefano Domenicali, a Ferrari team manager, is backed for taking Todt’s place. Even without the arrival of a very different driver from Michael in the form of Kimi Raikkonen (with Massa muttering in the background that he won’t find it easy to take number one slot), these are enormous changes to a team that had become very settled and was working with well-greased efficiency. Whoever takes over as team chief is going to have his work cut out with all these variables reacting in concert.
Jean Todt is Michael’s man; the two have worked together for so long that it is hard to imagine them apart. And if, as seems quite likely, the stresses induced by the change in personnel begin to affect the competitiveness of the team, there is only one place that Todt will look for a solution: Michael Schumacher.
Michael is the one who can pull everything together through force of his personality and his popularity with existing team members. It would make perfect sense for him to be attached to the team in an advisory capacity yet with considerable power. There would be no need for him to usurp Domenicali’s role – Michael would be there as a sort of “ultimate authority” to heal any splits and feuds that develop.
In a few months’ time, Michael is going to become very bored; people with his amount of drive and energy do not adapt well to endless leisure. And, if the call comes from Todt, I think he will be ready for it.
This is all idle speculation, of course, and things may pan out very differently. But remember that the man who started it all, Enzo Ferrari, began as a driver, started his own team and made it into the most successful outfit Grand Prix racing has ever seen. If anyone can follow in those footsteps, it is Michael Schumacher.