(We at Strat.in welcome our newest contributor, Arun KS. Arun is an alumnus of IIM-Calcutta, is a huge sports fan, specializing in EPL, UEFA and F1. His stay at IIM-C was marked by his attempts at Genocide during his stint as the Mess Representative of the Old Hostel, and winning several Marketing contests)
It is pretty stale news now that Michael Schumacher will be holding Felipe Massa’s seat in Ferrari until he is fit enough to race. So all those F1 fanatics and Schumacher supporters like me are ecstatic to see the maestro at work again and all those new F1 fanatics who have started following F1 in the past 2 years will get to see the maestro at work live.
After all the oohs and aahs the news has created there comes a question as to why did Ferrari go back to Schumacher and did not choose any other driver to replace Massa. I am trying to have my guess work at why Ferrari did that.
At the beginning of the season, the aim of Ferrari like most of the other teams was twofold.
1. Win the Drivers Championship
2. Win the Constructors Championship
After 10 races, their top driver, Massa is placed 7th, is injured and is not sure of racing again in the season. Their second driver Raikkonen is placed 9th and has no realistic chance of winning the drivers’ championship. Similarly, though they are placed 3rd in the Constructors championship, they are 74 points off the leaders and 58.5 points off the 2nd placed Red Bull.
So the only option they have now is to finish as high as possible in the constructors championship, which in turn burns down to holding on to their 3rd place. With the competitors like Toyota and McLaren breathing down their neck, it is a real tough task and for this they need both their drivers to
b. finish as high as possible within the point scoring positions
For this they need their own machinery to be reliable and their drivers to be highly competitive and reliable. Their current drivers were competitive and reliable and thus they would have no complaints on that and no need to change the drivers next season. So keeping this in mind let us have a look at what the options were in front of the team to replace Massa
1. Marc Gene – The 35 year old test driver for Ferrari. He has had 36 starts in F1 though mostly with the 2 seasons he had with Minardi. His highest finish in F1 has been a 5th placed finish in the 2003 Italian Grand Prix when he replaced an injured Ralf Schumacher. He has scored a total of 5 points in his career and last driven an F1 car in the 2004 British Grand Prix. The most points he has scored in a season has been 4. This rules out Gene both on the count of a reliable point scoring driver and being highly competitive
2. Luca Badoer – Yet another test driver for Ferrari since 1997. He holds the dubious distinction of being the driver with most Grand Prix starts (48 starts) and not scoring a single point. His highest ever finish has been 7th place in the San Marino Grand Prix (at that time they were giving points classification only for the first six drivers). His last race was 1999 Japanese Grand Prix. Though he has been a long time test driver, and probably the driver to have done the maximum number of miles in a Ferrari, he is ruled out because of the lack of reliability.
3. Robert Kubica – One of the many names linked to the empty seat in Ferrari. He is a rising star in the F1 circuit, though his current season is marred by an unreliable car. He has had 50 starts in F1 and has scored 122 points, winning the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix and finishing on the podium 8 times. He was leading the drivers’ championship at the half mark last year only to lose it off due to a reduced car performance. Thus he is a proven reliable driver who could get you the points and is highly competitive. He meets both the situation. But, he is under contract at BMW Sauber and being their top driver, the team would be reluctant to let him go to a rival in the middle of a season. Moreover, even Kubica might not like the idea of being a stop gap driver in the team, where he has to score points only to let the seat whenever Massa returns.
4. Fernando Alonso – The weirdest of the rumors was the one linking Alonso to the seat to replace Massa. Though there are rumors that he would be joining Ferrari in the next season, neither he nor Ferrari are ready to confirm the news. Moreover, being a 2 time world champion, why would he move into a team as a stop gap option?
5. Sebastian Bourdais – The 31 year old driver has had 27 starts and has scored 6 career championship points. He has been relieved of his contract with Torro Rosso at the end of German Grand Prix this year and he hasn’t proven his competitive spirit or the reliability to get the Ferrari seat, when it is so desperate to score points.
6. Nico Hulkenberg – Yhis 22 year old reigning Formula Three Euro series champion is a rookie. The maximum level of F1 experience he has had was as a test driver at Williams. And the present situation is not a situation to put a rookie in.
A host of other drivers including David Coulthard were also linked to them. But either most of them are under contract with some team or the other, or they are not reliable or sometimes both. David Couldhard, although retired is still under contract with McLaren Mercedes. Moreover, he has not even driven a Ferrari on the race circuit till now.
So in the end it comes down to Michael Schumacher. A proven driver (the best race driver in history), reliable in scoring points (his 7 world championship titles are a testimony) and highly competitive (sometimes blamed for being over competitive too :P). He last raced in the 2006 season where he just missed the championship, and last drove the Ferrari car in April 2008 (he used to test drive the cars after retirement). He is known to be a keen fitness enthusiast who still keeps himself fighting fit, but of course he will have to undergo a battery of tests before he finally sits in the car because of his neck which he injured in an accident early this year. Though he hasn’t driven this year’s car and could not drive one till the practice session in European Grand Prix, he knows the Ferrari machine and the engine inside out after so many successful seasons with them. So, he can score those vital points needed by the team and can also easily leave the seat once Massa returns to go back to his role of consultant.