Ferrari's management yesterday firmly scotched suggestions that Michael Schumacher would consider retiring prior to the 2004 Formula One season, having won his record sixth crown in 2003.
Their sporting director, Jean Todt, sounded a warning to the team's rivals. "The Michael Schumacher we see next year will be the best Michael Schumacher ever," he said.
"He's as motivated as he has ever been and if he went off the track at times this season, it didn't embarrass him too much as he won the title. If he feels he is not competitive enough, that is when he will stop. But he is very intelligent. He loves driving and being with the team and winning races. He never compromises - it's amazing.
"If we don't see him for two or three days, it's because he's off doing some karting. It's in his blood. So next year he will be the best we have ever seen him."
Ferrari's technical director, Ross Brawn, says that people who expect the German to retire are missing the point. "Michael does it because he loves racing and as long as he enjoys working with us and fighting to develop the car, then he will carry on. He told me recently that he had corrected his karting career; the last major kart race he had done he had been beaten in, but recently he won again. As he put it, he had regained his status in that sport. That shows what the guy is made of. I see no sign of reduction in his level of enjoyment. Perhaps he's even enjoying it more. I think he's definitely matured but he is not yet past his peak."
Ferrari will not be drawn on who might subsequently lead their team when Schumacher eventually does stop. Brawn, however, suggested that the McLaren driver Kimi Raikkonen would be a logical choice.
"He's the best of the new guys," Brawn said. "He doesn't make mistakes under pressure and he did some great things towards the end of the season with what was a pretty old car."
The Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, said he was hopeful that an agreement for the sport's long-term future would be signed before the end of the year following a meeting in Geneva recently between all of the parties concerned.
* The Austrian racing driver Norbert Siedler said yesterday that he was excited about getting a test drive with Minardi at the end of the week. "It's incredible," Siedler said. "I still cannot believe the news."Reuse content