Ferrari's current 'crisis' could lead to its most famous son deciding to sever his ties with Maranello when his contract expires at the end of the season.
That is the view of Michael Schumacher's manager Willi Weber, who felt compelled to defend his charge when criticism of the Prancing Horse's start to the 2009 Formula One season spread in the German's direction.
The defending constructors' champion has yet to register a point after two races, and suffered more embarrassment at Sepang when two strategic errors compounded the already evident problems with pace and reliability. Although Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa topped the Friday practice times, prematurely suggesting that they may be able to tackle the 'diffuser three', the achievement proved to be something of a mirage, with the 2007 world champion only able to qualify ninth fastest.
That, however, was nothing compared to the 16th spot occupied by team-mate Massa, after the team's complacency prevented it from noticing the Brazilian's slide down the Q1 order as others improved their times. Massa was still stood in the garage when it became apparent that he needed another flying lap to save himself and had no time to reply.
Raceday was little better, as Raikkonen's pursuit of points was hampered by the decision to put him onto full wet rubber at his first pit-stop, despite the fact that the forecast rain had yet to arrive over the Sepang circuit. Although the predicted downpour did eventually come, the Finn had plummeted down the order and was unable to rescue the situation. He was last spotted in civvies, enjoying an ice-cream, while his 14th-placed car was fettled in readiness for a possible restart....
With Raikkonen also suffering geabox and KERS-related problems respectively during the free practice sessions in Australia and Malaysia, and Massa being forced to retire from the season-opener, it has not been an auspicious start for the Scuderia, and the knives are already being sharpened, particularly in the Italian media.
While no-one is safe, particular attention has been paid to Schumacher, who continues to hold 'special advisor' status within the team despite the departure of former 'dream team' colleagues Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Paolo Martinelli. With new team principal Stefano Domenicali insisting that it is time for every team member to 'accept his responsibility' for the poor start, the sports press has asked where Schumacher was during the moments of madness, with Gazzetta dello Sport
calling the seven-time world champion 'a ghost', and both Corriere dello Sport
and La Gazzetta di Modena
suggesting that there should now be some doubt about the role the German plays within the team.
While Schumacher himself has insisted that Malaysia was 'a lottery game that we unfortunately did not win', and three-time world champion-turned RTL
analyst Niki Lauda claiming that 'Michael would make certainly a hundred time better decision than many an engineer', Weber felt compelled to speak out in the German's defence.
"The critics are totally idiots," he told German news agency SID
with typical forthrightness, "The attack on Michael makes no sense. The decisions from the pit-wall were taken by the team.
"His contract with Ferrari expires at the end of year, but I don't know yet if it will be renewed. Igt is entirely possible that it will not
be renewed. There will be a meeting mid-year, and we should wait for that. But, it the contract is not renewed, it certainly won't be because of what happened at the Malaysian GP. Michael can make some suggestion to the squad, but he is not the team leader or the team manager of Ferrari."