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Author Topic: Home hero Schumacher finds it hard to say goodbye  (Read 1026 times)


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Home hero Schumacher finds it hard to say goodbye
« on: July 29, 2006, 11:44:03 PM »
Alan Henry in Hockenheim
Saturday July 29, 2006

Cross the bridge leading into the Hockenheim circuit and there they are, trudging doggedly in their thousands, the foot soldiers in Michael Schumacher's huge army of loyal supporters. Their "Schumi" and Ferrari flags identify them as disciples of the man who will be aiming for a record 89th career victory in what promises to be a torrid German grand prix.
Yet, even as the sun shines, there are storm clouds brewing on those fans' horizons. They know that tomorrow they might be cheering their hero for the last time in formula one action on his home soil. Schumacher has not yet made up his mind whether to continue racing beyond this season and will not reveal his final plans until the Italian grand prix on September 10.

While many have long presumed that Schumacher will not be prepared to have his private domain invaded by Kimi Raikkonen - tipped to move from McLaren to Ferrari for next season - that is not the way Willi Weber sees it. The German racing entrepreneur, who has managed Schumacher since his fledgling days as a formula three hopeful, believes his charge is still torn between his huge passion for driving and the prospect of spending more time with his wife Corinna and their two children, Gina Maria and Mick.
"To be honest, I currently see more motivation from Michael than I've ever seen in him," Weber said yesterday. "He is totally happy, he's strong, he's fit. He has only one goal at the moment which is to win the world championship. I think he looks younger than anybody else on the podium. I've said on many occasions that Michael's whole motivation is self-generated. He doesn't need anybody else to motivate him because he loves what he is doing and this is the biggest motivation you can have in your life.

"As far as a decision is concerned about his future, well, I've known Michael for 20 years and, if he says that it will be at Monza, not before and not after, then it will be at Monza. Remember he is facing making a fundamental decision. I think myself some days he wants to stop and some days he wants to go on. So I just listen. I really have no idea what his decision will be but, whichever it is, I am with him."

Weber's view is shared by Michael Schmidt, the respected grand prix correspondent for the Stuttgart-based Auto Motor und Sport magazine, who has closely followed Schumacher's career since before his formula one debut. "In Germany I would say most people now think it is 50-50 whether or not Michael will quit at the end of the season," he said.

Schmidt also believes that the future plans of Jean Todt, the Ferrari sporting director, will be central to Schumacher's decision-making process. The two men enjoy a close friendship and Todt is widely considered as the key catalyst and motivating force behind Ferrari's re-emergence as a leading formula one force over the past decade.

"I think it all depends on what Jean Todt is doing," he said. "That's the central key in my mind. If he goes, then I think Michael will stop. But I think there must be other reasons why he is still thinking about retirement because there are no indications from his driving that he has lost his driving edge. So the fact that he has not yet made a decision - and he has not - indicates just how difficult it is. Maybe [there are] family considerations which he needs to take into account and about which we are unaware."

Ian Phillips, commercial director of the Midland team, says he would be extremely surprised if Schumacher retired. When he looks at the German driver he thinks back to the fresh-faced 22-year old who had his first formula one test at Silverstone in the summer of 1991.

"When I look at Michael today I see a man who is enjoying driving a racing car as much as he did 15 or 16 years ago," said Phillips. "I can't begin to think that a man who is enjoying it so much, and so visibly, is on the verge of packing it in."

Certainly nobody at Ferrari has noticed any diminution of Schumacher's focus or commitment. "He picks up all the experience that goes with maturity," said Ross Brawn, their technical director. "But while he collects all these benefits, he's certainly not any slower in learning than he was before. He has the whole package."

Rubens Barrichello, his former Ferrari team-mate, gave a more light-hearted view: "I haven't discussed it with Michael, obviously, but I'd have to agree that he doesn't look like a guy who is thinking about stopping. Anyway, although he plays football, he's not very good at it, so he'd better continue driving"

The Stig




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