Luca di Montezemolo has acknowledged that Ferrari has 'nothing to offer' Michael Schumacher as the record-breaking F1 legend looks to make a sensational comeback to top flight competition in 2010 with reigning world champions Mercedes Grand Prix – but he insisted that the German 'will remain forever part of the Ferrari family'.
di Montezemolo revealed at the weekend that Schumacher had informed him that there is 'a very, very, very strong possibility that he will be driving for Mercedes' next season [see separate story – click here
], in a move that would mark a spectacular return for the most successful driver in F1 history, three years on from initially hanging up his helmet – with some surmising that due to the arrival of Kimi Raikkonen at Maranello in 2007 and not wanting to force Felipe Massa out of a race seat, he was forced out before he felt it was truly time.
Nonetheless, the chapter appeared to be closed on a career whose breathtaking statistics might well never be beaten – 91 victories, 154 rostrum finishes, 68 pole positions, 76 fastest laps and a staggering 1,369 points from 249 grand prix starts, and no fewer than seven drivers' world championship crowns, five of them with Ferrari. Closed, that is, until Schumacher toyed with – and then leapt upon – the idea of temporarily substituting Massa in the wake of the Brazilian's terrifying, life-threatening high-speed accident during qualifying at the Hungaroring in the summer.
Whilst that attempt was ultimately thwarted by a recurring neck injury from a motorcycling fall at Cartagena in Spain back in February, the competitive fire inside the Kerpen native had clearly been re-awakened – and at 41 when the 2010 season gets into gear in Bahrain next March, Schumacher seems ready to step back into the groove and take the fight to the new breed of F1 stars who have monopolised the podium since his departure.
Though sad to say goodbye to a man who has played an integral part in Ferrari's heritage and success since joining forces with the Prancing Horse 13 years ago, the Scuderia's
president knows he cannot stand in the way of what has been described in some quarters as 'the greatest comeback in sports history'.
“The real Schumacher, the one I know, will remain forever part of the Ferrari family,” di Montezemolo underlined. “I said it in Monza and I repeated it in Abu Dhabi, but it seems he has a twin brother, identical in every way, who seems to have it in his head to go and race in Formula 1 with Mercedes. I don't know him personally, but it seems we have nothing to offer him – we have two young drivers in Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, on whom we are counting to deliver a lot next year.
“Joking apart, Michael's current role revolves around the development of our road cars, including the important phase which saw us launch the 458 Italia, which is the essence of technology and owes a lot to research carried out on-track with the Formula 1 car. I think that, this summer, when I asked him to stand in for Felipe after the terrible accident in Budapest, he suddenly rediscovered the desire to race – and the fact he was unable to follow through with that left him with a void that we are unable to fill.
“I remember how despondent he sounded on the evening of 9 August, when he called me to say that the problem with his neck meant he could not race in Valencia. It's lucky that, despite the unsporting stance of some, we were able to run him in the 2007 car at Mugello, otherwise Michael would not have been fully aware of his situation. We have tried to move forward with the idea of running a third car, but for the moment that is not possible. I don't know what he will decide for the future, but I extend to him and indeed his twin brother, my very best wishes.”