Motor Racing: McLaren rumors dog Schumacher: Speculation rife

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE Michael Schumacher saga rumbled across Europe yesterday, with Swiss and German newspapers echoing British claims that the driver was about to leave Benetton, and fierce denials coming from Italy and London.

Despite the denials, speculation mounted in Germany particularly that Schumacher, unhappy with Benetton after a series of incidents, had found a legal loophole to break his contract, which runs until the end of next season.

The Swiss tabloid Blick, the German magazine Stern and the magazine Sportauto all reported that Schumacher has decided to end his connection with Benetton.

Schumacher's lawyers wrote to Benetton officials before last week's Italian Grand Prix at Monza and notified them that he intends to leave at the end of the season, the reports said.

'It's all speculation, we can deny it,' the Benetton spokeswoman, Patrizia Spinelli, said.

The German cable television station RTL, which has German rights for broadcasting Formula One races and which often has Schumacher as a studio guest, reported Schumacher also denying the reports. RTL said it spoke to Schumacher by telephone in Switzerland and quoted him as saying, 'Some people know more than I do.' The station denied the reports as 'speculation and untrue'.

A Benetton spokeswoman in London also denied the reports and said the British-based team had not heard from Schumacher's lawyers.

The 25-year-old German driver canceled a test session this week in Silverstone, but Benetton said this was because of a previous promotional commitment.

The newspaper stories said Schumacher was likely to drive next season for McLaren, whose engines are expected to be supplied by Mercedes. Wolfgang Schattling, a spokesman for Mercedes, said the company was still thinking about its next Formula One moves and did not want to mention any names.

'As far as we know, Michael Schumacher is not free,' the spokesman said in response to reports that linked Schumacher to a possible McLaren-Mercedes partnership. Mercedes is one of Schumacher's sponsors.

Stern's story added that the Benetton team chief, Flavio Briatore, would also leave the team at the end of the season if Schumacher wins the drivers' championship.

Schumacher himself told a German newspaper one week ago that he might quit Benetton if he finds out the trouble-plagued team knowingly broke rules behind his back.

Lotus say Nigel Mansell will not be returning to help them out of financial trouble. The cash-starved Norfolk-based team, who are believed to have debts of around pounds 10m, had been linked with Mansell through his close friendship with the team's chief, Peter Collins. But Collins denied that Mansell, who began his career with Lotus, was set for a return. 'There is no truth in the rumour that he will become involved in the running of Team Lotus,' he said.