The one question on everyones lips (and has been since before the season started) surrounds the future of Michael Schumacher. Ferrari have stated that a decision will be made by the Italian Grand Prix weekend on September 8th/9th and 10th. While some people believe they know, no one for sure knows what the seven times World Champion is going to do. I’m not even sure he knows himself.
Earlier in the season, and in an effort to quell rumours and questions, Michael said he will make a decision as the season progresses because he wants to see how competitive the car is. This competitiveness will help Michael decide how well the car will run in 2007. Although the Scuderia were the runaway champions in 2004, it was clear that Renault had made strides with their car, and the Honda had challenged Ferrari for most the year. It wasn’t necessarily expected that Ferrari would flop in 2005, but given all the factors, it was bound to be a tricky season. I’m sure if Ferrari had experienced another 2005 this year, Schumacher’s decision would already have been made. But the team have improved again and are languishing so very close to Renault in the Constructors title, and after a string of wins, Michael has every opportunity to steal the crown from Fernando Alonso. All this implies that the 2007 car will be a championship contender on both counts. And as Renault are losing there number one driver to McLaren, next year is going to be interesting. Interesting enough, I think, to keep Schumacher in the racing seat for another year.
Michael Schumacher wants to go out on a high, a blaze of glory, so to speak. He doesn’t want to retire finishing runner-up in his final season. He wants to say, “Seven titles was enough, but the eighth is very sweet, thank you very much.” And even if he manages to take the Drivers Championship this year, I think the lure of 2007 could be too much.
Renault are going to struggle next year. And as much as I admire Giancarlo Fisichella as a driver, even I cannot deny that he is making it very difficult for himself. For sure, he won’t have to compete with Alonso in the same team next year, but it is not going to be a walk in the park for Italian driver.
McLaren? Well, they’ll either make a winning car, or a dog. Alonso will be a welcome boost, regardless of his success this year, but as we have seen with Kimi the last few years, the driver isn’t everything. McLaren will have to make a solid and super-quick car with a reliable Mercedes engine. Alonso has enjoyed very good reliability with the Renault, and I think he will find it a shock if his motor continually breaks-down. However, if McLaren produce a corker, then you can bet your bottom dollar that Alonso will be fighting for another title.
So with Renault and McLaren facing change and potential difficulties for next year, Ferrari should have it for the taking. For sure, Honda will continue to improve, but they won’t be serious contenders next year. A bit like McLaren in recent years, Honda have yet to build a reliable and seriously quick car. The 2004 challenge was excellent, but so unexpected the team just weren’t ready for the task they found themselves facing. BMW are another team that look mighty good for the future. But then we all said that about Toyota a few years back, and look at them now! The Red Bulls are looking good for the next few years as well, what with Newey, Coulthard, Webber and Ferrari or Renault engines. But again, they are young and need a few more seasons under their belt before they can challenge.
Ferrari will be contenders next year, and thinking about the season from this current moment in time, it looks like they may be the only contenders. So if Schumacher’s motivation is titles, he should hang around for another year.
Martin Brundle posed the conundrum quite well when commentating yesterday for UK viewers: “Now you’re in an interesting position Michael. What are you going to do now?” Stating that Michael had lost another two points to Alonso in the race for the title, but in a competitive car that should have won given its comparable pace.
Does anyone want to predict what Michael will say in Monza? “Yes” or “No”…