Motor Racing: Schumacher may test financial limits

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER'S graduation to the ranks of world championship race winners could test McLaren's resolve to play their part in reducing expenditure on drivers.

Formula One teams, to the approval of the sport's authorities, are determined to drive down salaries, as Nigel Mansell is discovering, to his possible cost, at Williams. It is understood McLaren have indicated they would not be prepared to meet the asking price for Schumacher, even if they could negotiate his release from Benetton.

However, the 23-year-old German's success in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, may have persuaded the deposed champions to reconsider their position. Certainly Schumacher's management would welcome the opportunity of relocating the outstanding talent - and hottest property - to emerge in Formula One since Ayrton Senna.

While Schumacher insists he is happy to stay at Benetton (as he insisted he would have been happy to stay at Jordan), his manager, Willi Weber, said: 'If there was a chance for Michael to join McLaren I would advise him to do so because, in the long run, they are the best team in Formula One. If Michael wants to become world champion I think he has to go there.'

There just may be the chance to bump up his income, too. Even with a substantial rise at Benetton next season, his wage would still be well below seven figures. His management no doubt feel he should now be heading way beyond that threshold.

A solution might be found in an engine package deal should Honda withdraw from Formula One at the end of the season and leave McLaren seeking new partners. One theory circulating is that McLaren could take the new Ford V12 engine along with Schumacher, while Benetton retain the Ford V8 and, perhaps, Martin Brundle. It is generally believed Riccardo Patrese has been lined up to join Benetton, assuming there really is no future for him at Williams-Renault.

Honda's decision, expected this month, could yet sway Senna's thinking. After seemingly giving up on a job at Williams, however, he still contends taking a year's sabbatical is his likely course of action.

Asked whether he thought Schumacher might go to McLaren, the former champion said: 'Why not? There is a 100 per cent chance of one seat there because Gerhard Berger is joining Ferrari, and 99 per cent chance of another because that is mine.'

Senna, who has collided with Schumacher on and off the track this season, had praise and advice for the confident charger: 'He is still young and he is a very talented driver. He is very lucky to have such a competitive team and he is making the best use of it. He can definitely be at the top. I just hope he stays as determined and is humble.'

Schumacher is not known for his humility, but then who is in this game? Not Senna, for one. He suggests Alain Prost has exercised a contractual right to keep him out of Williams because he is afraid of renewing their duel.

Williams and Renault maintain that Prost has not signed for them, although a contract is in place and it is understood the man sacked by Ferrari last year has already had a seat fitting. It is thought he may test the car for the first time in the very near future.

Both members of the Anglo-French alliance also claim they want Mansell to stay next year, although there has been no apparent progress on that front and the world champion remains dismayed over the whole affair.

Formula One would be the poorer for the loss of the Englishman or the Brazilian, but then Formula One is fully aware of that fact. The one thing that we can be certain of is that, behind the scenes, there will be moves to try and make sure that they, as well as the French driver, are on show next season.