Ralf Schumacher’s contract is up for renewal at the end of this year, and with many young up-and-coming drivers eager to show their worth in motorsports elite series, maybe it is time for younger of the Schumacher siblings to stand aside and let someone else begin a career in Formula One.
Competing in his eleventh year in Formula One, Ralf has accrued six wins from 166 starts, had many a big accident and has been often outpaced by his team mates. This year alone, and only after three races, fellow Toyota driver Jarno Trulli is on four times the points. For the past two seasons though, Ralf has finished higher than Trulli, 20:15 and 45:43 for 2006 and 2005 respectively. But with confidence waning at Toyota, and with the car performing woefully for the money that is thrown at it, maybe the Japanese marque need to shake up their drivers and team personnel a little.
It is also worth noting that Ralf is one of Formula One’s top earners, only eclipsed by Kimi Raikkonen, allegedly. Of course, exact numbers are never disclosed, but it has been made clear that Ralf is a very expensive driver. Older brother Michael once made a bit of cash from appearing on a l’Oreal advert, where he muttered the famous line, “Because I’m worth it!”. Is Ralf worth it?
Probably not, in all honesty. If I were a team owner, and Alonso’s manager came to me offering his driver’s services for Ralf’s salary in return, I’d probably agree – Alonso is a double world champion and only 25 years old. If Kimi Raikkonen’s manager offered the same, I’d probably agree for similar reasons – Kimi is a real talent and proven race winner. But with only six wins under his belt, I do not understand what Ralf can contribute that other (cheaper) drivers cannot.
I also find it odd that Toyota have been very firm with their drivers in the past, but have relaxed recently with their current pairing. They launched the team with Mika Salo and Allan McNish, but rather cruely ditched both drivers after only one season in favour of ChampCar title winner Cristiano Da Matta (he won it in a Toyota-powered car) and experienced driver Olivier Panis. Cristiano left before the season ended though, and test driver Ricardo Zonta was put in place. And then Olivier Panis retired from F1 and made way for already contracted Jarno Trulli at the final two races of the year.
Trulli was obviously retained for 2005 and this was the first year that saw Ralf Schumacher join the line up. The car seemed to be improving, but it didn’t last too long and things have pretty much descended since the ’05 high. Despite all this though, and despite Ralf’s huge accidents at Indianapolis that caused him much pain and injury, Ralf still rates himself quite highly. Speaking before the start of the 2007 season, he stated that he considers himself to be one of the top three drivers currently on the grid. I presume the other two are Alonso and Raikkonen, although the fact that he rates himself so well leads me to believe he isn’t of sound mind!
I know positive mental attitude is essential for sportsmen and sportswomen, but you must remember to keep your feet on the ground.
So anyway, Ralf will probably want to stay at Toyota, believing that the team will one day make it to the top. They are wealthy and can afford his excessive salary and ego. But will they want to? I’m not so sure, and while the two parties that have more-cash-than-sense are perfect for each other, I’m wondering if enough has finally become enough for Toyota.
As mentioned in a previous post about Giancarlo Fisichella, there will be more options for next year with Prodrive joining the grid, and team boss Dave Richards is keen on having an experienced driver in one of his cars. Whether or not they can afford Ralf is another question, but it is a possibility should Toyota decide to ditch Schumacher Jr. Trulli is already contracted to the team for another two years (inclusive of 2007), so it really is just down to Ralf and his measured performances against his team mate this year.
Are you a Ralf fan? Would you like to see him stay at Toyota, or move to another team? Or are you of the opinion Ralf should quietly walk out of the back door and never look back? Does Ralf deserve to be in Formula One?