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Schumi's future at Ferrari uncertain
Alan Baldwin | May 18, 2006 18:08 IST
Niki Lauda expects to see Kimi Raikkonen racing for Ferrari next season. He is less sure about Michael Schumacher.
It is, says the Austrian, the logical conclusion to declarations by both Schumacher and the Italian team last weekend.
Lauda, who won two of his three titles with Ferrari in 1975 and 1977, believes their willingness to let seven times champion Schumacher take his time in deciding his future can only mean that Raikkonen's arrival from McLaren is a done deal.
"Ferrari must have an alternative (to Schumacher) as a driver," he told Reuters.
"The most logical one is Kimi...they cannot afford to wait until the end of the year. If they wait to the end of the year and they have no driver signed up, they will race with (Brazilian Felipe) Massa and the test driver.
"I think they must have fixed Kimi one way or another and if Michael continues, then Massa will be a test driver and if Michael does not continue, Massa will (alongside Raikkonen). That is my logic to it."
Although Schumacher suggested last week that he may wait until the end of the season to make a decision, the 37-year-old did not say he would definitely do so.
Ferrari boss Jean Todt told reporters after Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix that he expected everything to be sorted well before the October finale in Brazil.
"When Michael feels comfortable with the announcement, we should announce something around Monza (the Italian Grand Prix in September)," he told reporters.
McLaren, who have signed Renault's world champion Fernando Alonso, will not wait that long and there is already speculation that some sort of announcement could come next week in Monaco.
Team boss Ron Dennis dropped a heavy hint last weekend that Raikkonen, the most sought-after driver on the market, had made his mind up to leave when he said McLaren now had a plan and would execute it.
"I'm absolutely sure the right thing for any driver to do is always stay in one team," said Dennis. "History shows that. But of course that's not always the opinion that a driver has."
There has been speculation since last year that the 26-year-old Finn, increasingly frustrated at McLaren after twice finishing runner-up in the championship, had signed a pre-agreement with Ferrari.
Ferrari have so far denied any such deal and some suspect that champions and current leaders Renault could yet attempt to pull off a surprise coup.
Previously limited by doubts about their long-term commitment and spending power, they announced on Sunday that they had signed up to stay until 2012 and were prepared to pay whatever it takes to secure a top driver to replace Alonso.
That limits the field a bit, with only Schumacher and Raikkonen in the same league as the Spaniard -- unless Renault believe they can get more out of Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya than McLaren have.
Amid all the speculation, there remains uncertainty about Schumacher's intentions with the most successful driver in the history of the sport still seemingly undecided.
"If he had decided in his mind to retire, he would not go as quick as he does now," said Lauda.
"I think he really does not know, seriously, but the longer it takes him (to decide), the less the chances that he will continue.
"He has won two races, he is on full blast hoping to win a championship. This motivation must give him enough power to say 'I want to continue'. But this did not happen. So this for me is the alarm.
"Because the alarm says he's going to wait. So why do you want to wait? Because you don't know...and if you are uncertain, it can go one way or another."
Valentino Rossi, the MotoGP champion, has also to decide whether he wants to leap from two wheels to four and said at the weekend that he would decide in June.
That opens another conundrum: If Ferrari have signed Raikkonen, and Schumacher decides he wants to stay alongside the Finn, where would the charismatic Italian fit in?
The chances are that he will stay where he is, unless Schumacher calls it a day. And that is still the biggest question of all.
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