Let The Bidding Commence…

Let The Bidding Commence…

And presumably, it is starting at approximately $24m!

There have been a lot of rumours flying around Formula One at the moment regarding the future of seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher. Obviously, Schumacher is a key player in the drivers market, and with his Ferrari contract up for renewal at the end of this season; it would appear he is sitting in the commander’s chair.

So what are Schumacher’s options?

The first choice is the easiest to discuss – retirement. Michael will be 36 (ish?) this year, and whilst he says he is still fit enough to drive, it will only be a matter of time before his body starts to say “no more”. I’m sure though, Schumacher could race into his forties, as could any other driver who takes his fitness so seriously.

If Schumacher were to retire, that would make way for Kimi Raikkonen to become the lead driver at Ferrari and no doubt he would get a substantial pay increase. That leaves McLaren with Montoya and Alonso (the latter already declaring his contract with the Woking squad for 2007).

Ferrari has other options though, should Michael hang up his helmet. MotoGP star and multiple champion on two wheels Valentino Rossi has been enjoying some private tests in a red car. Last year we saw him take to the track on several occasions, getting himself acclimatised to having two extra wheels on his wagon. And Ferrari isn’t stupid – they know they need to groom a megastar for when the inevitable happens. That megastar could be Felipe Massa, but I feel he is just a gap-filler for a year or two. If Kimi stays at McLaren, could Juan Pablo be coaxed into a Ferrari? I’m sure it wouldn’t take much persuasion, especially if he was guaranteed lead driver status. But I’m not sure Montoya has done enough to impress the key players at Maranello, and silly accidents that frequent JPM’s driving style will not go down well with Ferrari’s demanding bosses.

Schumacher could move to Toyota. This must appear to be an appealing option for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Toyota is a big team. They are rumoured to have the second largest budget in F1, just behind Ferrari who are backed by Fiat. They could afford Schumacher, and I imagine they would really want Schumacher. What happened at Ferrari could be done again, but I’m not sure the German has time on his side. It took a few years before Ferrari really dominated Formula One, and whilst he could race for quite a while longer, I’m not sure it is enough.

Secondly, the glory that came from turning Ferrari around was immense. It made Michael the success that he is. Had he stayed at Benetton, it would have been a different story. He may have won just as many championships, but it wouldn’t have made him into the ‘greatest driver of his era’. Taking a beat-up and run-down team and making them into multiple champions puts not just Schumacher, but Byrne, Brawn, Todt and all the others in a different light.

To do this again in one career would be the crowning glory to a glittering life in motorsport. And I’m sure Toyota would relish the chance to have a driver and team player like Schumacher Senior on their side.

Another option is Red Bull Racing.

Red Bull? Seriously, Red Bull?

As crazy as that sounds, Red Bull are in Formula One for the long haul. They have hit the ground running thanks to David Coulthard and his many points-scoring finishes in 2005. They have bought a junior team from Paul Stoddart where they can train and hone many of the Daddy teams personnel and drivers. They have blagged Ferrari engines for 2006, which is a big boost. And lastly, they have signed one of the world’s greatest aerodynamicists – Adrian Newey – to design their car.

Newey, Ferrari, DC and a ‘live’ training ground for personnel. Oh yes, I think RBR are going to be a force to be reckoned with in 5 or so years.

This kind of investment implies that they will be around for a while, with the intention of dominating the sport ‘Ferrari-esque’ one day.

Whilst Red Bull clearly has a lot of funds, do they have enough for a multiple world champion? Well, only they know that, but I think it is a relevant question. And would they be willing to throw money where Michael says is another important question.

I think Red Bull is probably quite low on Schumacher’s list of ‘Wants’, but I’m sure that won’t put off the ‘Bulls bosses from buying Michael a brew at the bar!

If Michael doesn’t retire, and doesn’t want to change teams, then I guess that means he gets an extension on his Ferrari contract. Luca di Montezemolo has stated in the past that Schumacher is welcome to drive for Ferrari for as long as he wants. I think Fiat are more than happy to keep cutting those large cheques as long as the championships keep coming.

If Michael does remain at Ferrari, they still need find a worthy second driver and they must not forget that one day they will have to find a lead driver. The search for the next available superstar began a while ago, and Ferrari would do well to get a Raikkonen signature on a contract. Alonso is bound up at McLaren now, and Jenson will probably want to remain at Honda now they are set become the third largest team on the grid. Really, it just leaves Kimi and JPM as the last of the superstars. Fisi is great, but his lot took a beating last year. His best bet is to try and stay at Renault and pick up the pieces in 2007. Barrichello would probably never return to be MS’s number two again, so that leaves very few drivers to fill the gap.

As Schumacher states, “If I continue after 2006, it is 99% that it will be with Ferrari.”

Still, that last 1% makes it all the more interesting!

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