Schumacher gears up to drive off into sunset

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The Independent Online

The only question anyone wants an answer to right now in Monza is whether Michael Schumacher really is going to announce his retirement from Formula One after the Italian Grand Prix tomorrow.

He is.

Ferrari are now expected to confirm at the same time that Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will lead them into the future.

Yesterday Schumacher's manager Willi Weber said: "We will make a statement at some stage in Monza and this statement will be Sunday. That means that if you will please understand, there is no point to ask any questions or get into it, because it will be made clear then and unfortunately not before for you." Weber admitted that the decision had been "difficult".

That could, of course, mean that Corinna Schumacher wants her husband to stop and he has decided to do one more year, but sources within Ferrari are adamant that the Turkish GP winner Massa will be racing for the Scuderia in 2007. And since Raikkonen will definitely be wearing Ferrari overalls next year - despite one sign in the grandstands opposite the pits which proclaimed: "Kimi, red doesn't suit you" - that leaves only one thing for Schumacher to do.

Moreover, Raikkonen's appointment was one at the personal behest of the Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who told Schumacher earlier this year that he was more than welcome to stay but that he would have to race with Raikkonen as his team-mate, since the Finn was available and was clearly Ferrari's future. Historically, Schumacher has never cared for team-mates of equal stature.

We will know for sure 15 minutes after the end of a race that Ferrari seem likely to dominate. So what will F1 be like without the man who has won more races and championships than any other?

"Same as with him!" Bernie Ecclestone said immediately the question was posed. "If Tiger Woods stops, golf will continue. Formula One continued when poor [Ayrton] Senna died, when everyone said it couldn't. But Michael is a superstar and that's good. People have said to me that Formula One is boring because he wins everything. So presumably when he's not here, if he leaves, people will be happy. I've no idea... but we'll miss him because he is a superstar. When somebody says Schumacher they think Formula One, which is good. It's good for the brand."

Yesterday, the new German hotshot Sebastien Vettel again set the pace for BMW in both practice sessions, and maintained his record from Turkey where he made his debut as a Friday test driver, by getting another fine for speeding in the pit lane. He does appear to be a young man in a hurry.

The Ferraris were consistently the best cars, however, suggesting that they will have the strength here to let Schumacher sign off in style in front of the adoring tifosi, for whom he has already won the Italian Grand Prix on four occasions.

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