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Decision day looms for Schumacher
September 01, 2006 15:18 IST
Michael Schumacher's manager Willi Weber has given up talking to the Ferrari driver about his plans for next year.
For the rest of Formula One, however, it has become an obsession.
Barely a day goes by without another twist to the speculation about the most successful, if not the greatest, driver the sport has seen and whether he plans to retire or carry on next year.
The question is on everyone's lips but, even now, nobody knows the answer.
Ferrari say they will announce their 2007 lineup next week at Monza, temple of Italian motor racing and a home race that could become Schumacher's European farewell to the Ferrari faithful.
Some words of warning, however. Even then, there may not be a definitive statement on the 37-year-old's future.
It could be that Ferrari simply trumpet the signing of Kimi Raikkonen from McLaren, a done deal for most of the paddock, with Schumacher and Brazilian Felipe Massa remaining under contract.
That would take the heat off Schumacher at a key point in the season, with the German just 12 points adrift of Renault's Fernando Alonso and four races remaining, while giving him more time to decide.
If Schumacher takes the title, he could then walk away and Massa would simply slot in alongside Raikkonen.
A month or two ago, the prevailing view was that Schumacher, who turns 38 in January, would probably continue. He was winning again and clearly enjoying his racing after a dismal 2005.
The pendulum has now swung the other way, just as Schumacher's title hopes have strengthened.
Weber, so instrumental in guiding Schumacher into Formula One 15 years ago, has urged him to go if he wins an eighth title but otherwise appears to have washed his hands of the matter.
"I don't want to make any comments any more because I think everything is talked about and all is said," he told Reuters in Turkey last weekend.
"I have no idea [what he will do], I don't speak with him any more about this question."
Former champion Niki Lauda has made his mind up: "For me, the chances of Schumi carrying on are only about five percent," he told Austria's Kleine Zeitung newspaper. "He's had enough of racing, I know what I am talking about."
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Germany's Premier television at the weekend that he too thinks Schumacher will go, drawing a withering reply from the driver and team boss Jean Todt.
"I tell you something, Bernie Ecclestone does not have a single element to judge what Michael has decided," Todt told reporters. "Bernie does not have any idea whether Michael will be driving in the future or not."
There is evidence to support both sides.
There can never be a better time to go than as champion, particularly if Schumacher senses he is unlikely to repeat the feat with Raikkonen as his team mate and Alonso at McLaren next year.
Raikkonen is not a driver to accept anything less than equal treatment and that could prove unpalatable for Schumacher, who has grown used to ruling the roost.
Massa, a race winner for the first time in Turkey last weekend, seems remarkably upbeat for a man who could be facing a year on the sidelines -- suggesting that he knows he has a good chance of retaining his race seat.
Then there are the voices that insist Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, who has overseen all of Schumacher's titles including two at Benetton, will be taking a year out.
Others see a champion whose head is telling him to do one thing while his heart says another.
"Watching Mika [Hakkinen], it was a big part of his life that suddenly wasn't there," said McLaren team boss Ron Dennis, who went down a similar path with his own twice champion five years ago.
"I think Michael is agonising over such a dramatic change to his life.
"I don't believe for one minute that he thinks about issues like risk or money, it has no relevance at all to his decision, I can imagine he feels about the loss he'll have in his life," added Dennis.
"After the American Grand Prix, at the back of the garages, he pretty much picked up and hugged every single member of the Ferrari team with genuine enthusiasm and happiness," he said.
"That didn't look like a person that had finished with Formula One.
"Can he live without it? Only he knows."
We will find out more in Monza. But the real picture may not be seen until after the end of the season.
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