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No rest for Schumacher's rivals
Alan Baldwin | November 25, 2004 20:26 IST
It's more than three months until the next Grand Prix but Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button and the rest of Formula One's would-be champions are already back at work.
This week marked a return to testing after the month-long post-season break. For some, there is the prospect of winter weeks spent pounding around cold and deserted European racetracks racking up the mileage.
But the man all drivers are measured against, the driver who has been champion since the turn of the millennium, has absolutely no intention of stepping back into a Formula One car until the New Year.
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, extraordinary winner of 13 races this year, is taking his usual long vacation before firing up his bid for an eighth title and sixth in a row.
"He will not be back before January," said the German's spokeswoman Sabine Kehm. "The only time he will be seen in a racing car before then will be at the Race of Champions."
Schumacher, who turns 36 on January 3, is taking part in a competition pitting the world's best circuit racers against rally aces on a temporary surface at the Stade de France in Paris on December 4.
His rivals will include French world rally champion Sebastien Loeb, NASCAR aces Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Brazilian IRL champion Tony Kanaan and France's Champ Cars champion Sebastien Bourdais.
Formula One cars will not be involved but drivers, including Briton David Coulthard and French veteran Jean Alesi, will race rally cars and Ferrari 360 Modena models.
The event will raise money for a Paris-based institute, backed by Schumacher and Ferrari boss Jean Todt, specialising in brain and spinal cord disorders.
Once that is out of the way, Schumacher will attend the International Automobile Federation's gala in Monaco on December 10 and Ferrari's traditional Christmas Party at Maranello. And then he will take it easy.
"There were times this year when I was way more tired than I am now," he said after the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix last month.
"I still feel fresh. But I also know that it's important to take a break before the preparations for the next season get underway."
In previous years, Schumacher has spent November and December with his family in Switzerland and at his Norwegian mountain hideaway -- where nobody takes any notice of him and he can lead a normal life.
This year he stayed away for 102 days before returning on January 22.
Ferrari have no shortage of test drivers, with Italian regular Luca Badoer and new Spanish signing Marc Gene in action in Barcelona while Maserati sportscar racer Andrea Bertolini did aerodynamics testing at Fiorano in Italy.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, runner-up in this year's championship, is expected to put in a couple of days testing at Jerez in southern Spain in the second week of December.
"Michael is unlikely to be testing before the 15th of January, after Campiglio," said a Ferrari spokesman on Thursday, referring to the regular January ski weekend organised by Ferrari sponsor Philip Morris in the Dolomites.
Last year there were questions about Schumacher's motivation, with some saying the champion's prolonged absence from the test track suggested he was losing interest in going around in circles.
That notion was swiftly dispelled as the German came back stronger than ever. His performance in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was simply awesome.
There is nothing to suggest that next year will be any different in terms of motivation, even if the likes of Montoya -- now with McLaren -- test their cars into the ground and regulations have changed.
"I'm generally looking forward to it," Schumacher, now the oldest driver in Formula One, said on his website recently. "I don't think the new rules will have any impact on any of the teams' ability to compete.
"The feel of the cars while driving will probably be different, which could heighten the fun."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage