Ferrari F1 team boss Jean Todt has confirmed that both Sauber pilots could be utilised by the Scuderia to help with Formula One testing duties - boosting Giancarlo Fisichella's hopes of one day racing for the Prancing Horse.

The Italian will switch to Sauber - now regarded almost as a Ferrari 'junior team' - for 2004, and it has been rumoured that he and new team-mate Felipe Massa will be competing for a possible Ferrari seat should six-times world champion Michael Schumacher decide to call it a day before the end of his current contract in 2006. Massa has already been retained as a member of the Ferrari test team - alongside Luca Badoer and Luciano Burti - despite his return to race duty with Sauber, but nothing had been mentioned of Fisichella.

However, Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reports that, during Ferrari's traditional Christmas supper at Maranello, Todt told journalists that "we could use Fisichella and Massa for testing".

Fisichella has long yearned for the chance to land a ride in one of the top three teams, with Ferrari his ideal employer because of Italy's affinity for the marque. He has often criticised the team for not employing many Italians - a decision taken by founder Enzo Ferrari, who was afraid of seeing his countrymen killed in times when F1 was less than safe - but has yet to get the chance to prove it wrong with another team.

However, lest the Italian driver get excited - and the Italian public concerned about the loss of their hero - Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo again insisted that Schumacher would not be retiring for some time.

Indeed, according to the report, Montezemolo revealed that Schumacher had talked about extending his contract with Ferrari beyond the end of 2006, something the German also hinted at as he answered questions from the media.

"Securing a sixth title gave me a special satisfaction," he admitted, "Last year, I had warned that the quest would not be an easy one, and that was confirmed. To win the title again was very hard.

"I have already said that the time to stop would come when someone started to beat me on a regular basis but, unless we are in the same car, it is difficult to judge if it is the car or the driver that is the reason. I continue to enjoy myself when I race, and, although I am 34 years old, I still feel young. Because of this, I am convinced that I will be able to carry on for some years yet."

 

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