Reigning Formula One constructors' champion Ferrari has revealed that it is pressing ahead in its pursuit of permission to run a third car in 2010 - a move that could see seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher return to the sport full-time.
While speculation that third cars could become a necessity should the top flight lose any more teams in the wake of the withdrawals of Honda and BMW Sauber, the emergence of contenders willing to fill the void - spearheaded by Campos Meta, Manor GP and Team US F1 in 2010 - appeared to remove the likelihood of it actually becoming fact.
Ferrari, however, has made no secret of its desire to see each team's entry expanded, especially of late, with president Luca di Montezemolo claiming that he was hoping to persuade his fellow team owners, as well as the FIA, to allow third cars [see story here
]. Now, with the Scuderia claiming that McLaren could harbour similar three-car ambitions, team principal Stefano Domenicali has added to the call, admitting that there was the possibility of including Schumacher in an expanded line-up for 2010.
"It is correct to say that, if everything is fine, why not see him in one of our cars?" he told Britain's Times
newspaper on Saturday, "It is true we are pushing [for three cars instead of two], [as] we feel it is for the benefit of F1.
"It is better to make sure the biggest teams have three cars because that's what people want. With all respect to the smaller teams, the value of F1 is to have good drivers, great personalities, in good cars and with a great brand."
Running a third car would offer various possibilities for Ferrari, with the ability to include either - or both - Schumacher and Fernando Alonso in the squad for next season. The German had been due to replace the injured Felipe Massa in Valencia last weekend, but had to withdraw after it was discovered that neck fractures sustained in a motorcycle accident in February had not healed sufficiently to allow his to complete a race distance. Alonso, meanwhile, continues to be linked to a move to Maranello for 2010, with an announcement rumoured for Monza next month.
As things stand, however, neither can be accommodated without with Massa or Kimi Raikkonen making way. The Finn has been talked about in terms of a possible switch to rallying in the future, and there is speculation that Ferrari could pay him the balance of his current contract to make space for Alonso. Raikkonen, however, may be prepared to wait it out in case Massa's recovery does not prove sufficient for a return to F1 next season.
Schumacher, meanwhile, continues to talk about a possible return, maybe even in 2009, should the opportunity arise.
The question of third cars is understood to be on the agenda for the next FOTA meeting, scheduled for Monza in two weeks' time.