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Why did Ferrari go back to Michael Schumacher?


(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.

Schumi

Schumi

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

In happier times

In happier times

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.

The crew of the Enterprise accurately express the emotions at Ferrari

The crew of the Enterprise accurately express the emotions at Ferrari

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

a.    finish

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

Desperate times - Desperate measures

Desperate times - Desperate measures

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.

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16 thoughts on “Why did Ferrari go back to Michael Schumacher?

  1. Kaushik says:

    As far as Alonso is concerned, isn’t there a rule that drivers can’t change teams mid-season?

  2. Siddhesh says:

    All this is fine, really – but the fact is with BMW and Honda leaving, F1 is fast losing credibility. I think the return of Schumi wasn’t about ferrari at all, it was about Formula 1 – the industry. This wasn’t a move coming out of Italy, it was a move by Max Mosley , or even the F1 Boss himself, to bring some fans back.

    Every F1 driver has been disappointing post schumi . Alonso, who came closest to the Schumi like aura, was treated very badly by Mclaren- not only did his image take a bad beating, but ppl started questioning his driving skills as well -(which are great imo), n now he is stuck with a loser team like renault . Kimi has been thoroughly disappointing. Hamilton’s win, as most F1 followers know, was fixed; and F1 made it too apparent! Massa despite all his heroics has been only 2nd best at ferrari. ppl like rosberg, heidfeld, vettel etc showed only flashes of brilliance. Others have been only also rans…

    Really, the whole article to me is pretty irrelevant- driver choices wud have come into consideration had ferrari been in contention. Here, the INDUSTRY is in contention- and this is the last throw of the dice for Bernie Eccelstone. If schumi can’t arrest the F1 slide, F1 may not take place at all in 2010- thts the harsh reality…

  3. MA says:

    Guys,

    Lets be honest? How many F1 viewers post schumi retirement watched F1 races without moving an inch or changing channels inbetween when there was live racing? how many current F1 drivers have made late charges in the closing stages of the race and still made a race out of it? how many F1 drivers make overtaking manoevours that puts their cars at risk? There is just 1 answer to all the questions above ? Micheal Schumacher . As simple as that.

  4. @ Kaushik
    The rules has no problem for it as long as the team to whom the driver is contracted is ok with it.
    And the rumour was that Alonso’s Renault contract would not have been a problem at all after the Hungarian GrandPrix, coz it is supposed to contain an exit clause related to team incompetence

    And in the stewards’ ruling last Sunday, it was stated specifically that Renault, banned from the forthcoming Valencia race, “failed to inform the driver of (the wheel) problem or to advise him to take appropriate action given the circumstances, even though the driver contacted the team by radio believing he had a puncture”. So many had the belief that he could get out of his contract at Renault with this clause

  5. Agreed that the number of people watching F1 has started dwindling after Schumacher left. But i seriously don’t think that this could be a move by Max Mosley or Bernie. Simply because Ferrari chief being the head of FOTA is against Max, and i would not think he would agree to what he would say. And similarly i don’t think bernie would interfere with the teams affairs to this level.

    What is to be noticed is that it was in the last year of Schumacher’s F1 career that FIA had started getting in rules to cut down the speed of the cars and other regulations which has for sure impeded the F1 teams. This has lead to a lot lesser number of overtaking maneuvers on the track. FIA has noticed this and is trying to introduce many other features like KERS etc, but all of them have failed to create the result it should have.

    And the recent budget cap was thought to be the last nail in the coffin.

    Luckily it has been announced that a new concorde agreement has been signed by the teams now and the controversial 40m pounds clause has been replaced with an agreement to reduce costs to mid 1990s level based on FOTAs method. So hopefully we will have F1 till 2012 season atleast. Just hope Max’s successor at the top of FIA is more successful than Max in his last few years.

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  7. Abhishek says:

    Very well researched article. I am also one of the countless die hard Schumi fans. Hope he gets Ferrari back on track this season 🙂

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  9. Shantan says:

    i wud be tempted to agree with kaushik…but i am sure Schumi would have raced if not for his neck..he is a champion to the core.

  10. I wud still say it was not a publicity stunt to get back interest in F1. Coz with this announcement, i don’t think that ppl who wud have come back to watch F1 for Schumi will watch now. For the publicity stunt to be complete they would need these ppl to watch F1.

    And yes agree with Shantan, Schumi would have raced if he had not had that accident in Feb.

    The question now is who will replace Badoer for next race or will he perform so well that he will be retained for the next race. Coz, di Montezemelo has announced that it will depend on Badoer’s performance as to whether he will race in the next race or not.

  11. Harsh Shah says:

    Sorry to jump in late in this discussion (a newbie to Strat.in)

    A die-hard Schumi fan myself I surely believe in Shantan that Schumi would have been raring to go.

    To get back to the article, Arun started structuring his analysis into two parts: 1) Machinery being reliable and 2) Drivers being highly competitive and reliable. Arun analysed the driver choices extensively and the other comments looked at the publicity that it has brought to FIA in these troubling times.

    However, the angle that I would like to present is the Ferrari angle.

    Ferrari have been consistently under-performing in the 2009 season. Their first win was this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix and this is a competent win for Kimi, following his podium in Valencia.
    Ferrari had untill Valencia scored an average of 4 points per race in 2009 as compared to around 10 per race in 2008.
    The morale of Scuderia Ferrari was undoubtedly low, raising questions on their drivers, mechanics and team management.

    What the “Hope of a return of Schumi” did was instill a brand new competitive spirit, which drove the mechanics and engineers at Maranello to come up with the car that came third in Valencia and first at Spa, signalling a return of form for the scarlet team.

    Even though Schumi was involved as a consultant to the Italian team, his presence in the paddock did not really make that much of an effect on the car performance (not commenting at all on race strategy).

    For the 2009 season, having started poorly for Ferrari, they needed an adrenalin shot in the form of Schumacher to propel them to work outside their comfort zones and put in whatever they can to give Schumi a competitive car.

    Schumi’s driver involvement not known, I dare say Scuderia will fall back into the clutches of complacency.

    All I am praying for is Schumi in Scuderia in September at Singapore.

  12. @Harsh

    Awesome analysis. Looks like everybody had missed that angle.

    And yes I am praying for Schumi in Monza … although i know it is impossible, but just can’t bear to see a Ferrari coming in the last full 45 seconds behind the previous car … :(. Luca might be a great Test driver, but looks like that is all he is

  13. Kaushik says:

    There is already news that Badoer is going to be replaced, and Fisi is supposedly one of the front-runners 🙂

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