APRIL 20, 1998
Schumacher and McLaren
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER's manager Willy Weber last week tried to calm media speculation that Michael may switch from Ferrari to McLaren at the end of this season. Weber told the German news agency SID that there was no reason for Schumacher to negotiate with any other team. Weber said that rumors of talks with McLaren were only rumors and that he had not talked to anyone else.
Weber did, however, concede that if Schumacher did want to leave Ferrari there are clauses in his contract which could allow him to do so, if Ferrari does not produce enough good results. The exact details of this performance clause are unclear but it will certainly include a number of Grand Prix victories and possibly even the World Championship, as this is Michael's third year at Ferrari and he was certainly expecting to be challenging for the title.
Ironically, if Michael continues to win races as he did in Argentina his get-out clause will close but it will be some months before this happens.
It is fairly clear that Mercedes-Benz and West, McLaren's chief sponsor, want to get their hands on Schumacher and are willing to pay a lot of money to have Michael in a McLaren-Mercedes. Weber's comments should, therefore, be treated with considerable caution, as it is fairly obvious that Schumacher is in a position not only to choose between the two best teams in Grand Prix racing at the moment but also to dictate his financial terms. If Ferrari continues to win - and it must be pointed out that the win in Argentina was really only because McLaren did not make the most of the machinery on the day - then Michael may choose to stay, but if McLaren reasserts itself at Imola he may consider a switch to be a much better option.
Current speculation in F1 suggests that McLaren would be happy to dump David Coulthard if Schumacher was available, although the Scotsman would probably not have far to fall as several top teams would be happy to sign him up. The current thinking is that if Michael leaves Ferrari Jacques Villeneuve would be recruited leaving Coulthard with a job with his old team Williams. The relationship did not work the last time David drove for Williams but he is a wiser man these days and Williams still recognizes the ability which made him the obvious choice to replace Ayrton Senna in 1994.
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