The Monza paddock was awash with F1 rumours, particularly regarding who goes where for 2004, and, while most deals are obviously still to be officially confirmed or denied, our man on the ground, Al Edge, came back with the gossip.

Top of the pops in terms of speculation is the suggestion that Michael Schumacher will retire from the sport he has graced for twelve seasons should he win his sixth world championship at either Indianapolis or Suzuka. The achievement would mark him out as undoubtedly the greatest F1 driver of all time - well on paper and result sheets, at least.

Paddock rumours at Monza suggest that Schumi has had such a hard time of staying ahead of the opposition this year that, if he wins the title by a whisker this year, he doesn't want to lose it by a mile next year and look anything but his great self.

This makes sense to us normal folk - he has more money than most mortals on this planet, but he too is mortal after all and, let's face it, anything can happen at 200mph - as more than a few have found out this year. It is suggested that Schumi wants to bow out at the top and not make a total hash of his last year in F1 by being trounced by the likes of Juan Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen and, possibly, a resurgent Jacques Villeneuve, should the Canadian land a competitive car. All in all, it adds up to a bit of a shocker in Suzuka, if and when he wins the world championship. Stay tuned for more....

Sticking with Germans for the moment, it is alleged that Jaguar Racing - looking at a number of ways of increasing its coffers for 2004 - has done a deal with Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld for 2004. Actually, sticking to the letter of the rumour - as it were - Heidfeld is alleged to have signed an option to drive for Jaguar in 2004, although there is some doubt about whether both sides of the agreement actually have signatures on them.

There is little surprise in the rumour, however, as Jaguar has been trying to secure the services of a German driver for some time - remember the chase for Heinz-Harald Frentzen in recent seasons? With H-HF talking of retirement and the Schumacher brothers signed up for at least another season, Heidfeld is the obvious target, even if he isn't exactly the most promotable driver in F1 at present - Nick is not exactly an 'A' list performer and it is difficult enough to spot within the paddock, let alone for the public to recognise him outside of it....

On a similar theme, but with a lot more recognition factor, Jos Verstappen's name was also being touted around. Huub Rothengatter, the Dutchman's manager, was conspicuous at Monza - and making a number of enquires with a number of teams. It appears that Jaguar Racing was on his list, particularly as Trust and other sponsors within Jos' portfolio are willing to reach deep into their pockets for 2004.

The thought of 'Jos the Boss' hustling a 2004 Jaguar alongside 'Webbo' would be a sight to behold, however it is thought that Jaguar may be looking for a great deal more money than even Jos can bring to the table, particularly if rumours from Ford's Cologne HQ are to be believed. It's still an interesting thought though....

Quite where either rumour leaves the talented Mr Wilson remains to be seen. Despite the fanfare that accompanied his mid-season switch to Jaguar from Minardi, it is unclear exactly where his future lies. The lanky Briton has unfortunately been plagued with mechanical gremlins since joining Jaguar, and hasn't really been given the opportunity to shine. However, the bottom line is that he won't be able to bring a sufficiently attractive budget for parent company Ford to hold on to him for 2004.

Lets see just how resourceful manager Jonathan Palmer is over the next few months in securing him another F1 drive - Jordan is always a possibility....

Talking of Jordan-Ford, it is alleged that the good Mr Firman will find it difficult to prise Mr Baumgartner out of his berth, as the F3000 midfielder has an array of Hungarian sponsors willing to stump up the funds required to see him in F1. It was noticeable at Monza that Zsolt already had a number of new names on the side of the Jordan, and I'm sure that will continue to the end of the season.

Hopefully, Ralph - who is one of those recovering from the sort of high-speed shunt that Schumi Sr will be looking to avoid in 2004 - will make it back, but it seems this may be unlikely unless Giancarlo Fisichella jumps ship early to Sauber and makes way for him to return or another paying driver to slot in. It's all very confusing at the
lower end of the food chain these days....

Slightly higher up the pecking order than Jordan at the moment, things are equally rife with speculation. Allegedly, Honda would dearly like Takuma Sato in at BAR for the Japanese Grand Prix and, while, Taku himself would also like to be racing in front of his home crowd, a certain Jacques Villeneuve remains a potential fly in the ointment.

Or so it seemed until the Monza weekend....

Apparently, it appears that WilliamsF1 made an enquiry as to Jacques' availability for the final grand prix of the season and, as it is no secret that Mr Ecclestone would dearly like to keep Jacques in F1, anything could happen. Both JV and Bernie were seen deep in conversation at a reception staged for the media and teams by those behind the forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix, so who knows? Bernie probably does....
The rumours surrounding Villeneuve and Williams led many to question whether Ralf Schumacher walked away from the Italian GP of his own accord or whether he was pushed. As we walked into the Monza paddock on Saturday morning, Ralf was trudging disconsolately out, facing a number of his contemporaries and media as they wondered what was going on.

Rumours suggest the fact that WilliamsF1, unimpressed by the German's performance on Friday - where an error dropped him to the tail-end of the field while his Colombian team-mate set overnight pole - raised the suggestion of team orders, even though Ralf was still theoretically in the title race.

The subject was apparently not well received by Schumacher Jr, and he made his feelings known by walking. The official line was, of course, that his absence was due to the medical condition arising from his spectacular accident at the Monza test the week before, where his car somersaulted in one of the gravel traps, but one day we'll know the truth....

If the story was true and Williams were looking to offload Ralf, where would he go and who would replace him? Again, there are several rumours flying around and we'll have the inside line on a number of them. Keep checking for the latest here at Crash.Net.

 

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