JUNE 10, 2003
The effects of Schumacher's decision
The announcement that Michael Schumacher has re-signed for Ferrari until the end of 2006 will have a number of interesting effects on the Formula 1 driver market. With the line-up of the top team effectively settled in the long term (the second car will be driven either by Rubens Barrichello or by Felipe Massa) those aspiring to superstar status will have less room to manoeuvre. We expect that the next wave of rumors will relate to David Coulthard but the Scotsman seems fairly secure at McLaren. In Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen the team has a very solid team and there is little or no point in changing that in the immediate future. The initial aim is to become a dominant force and only once that has been achieved will Mercedes and McLaren have the luxury of looking around and seeing what the driver market has to offer.
Williams will probably stay the same next year but Ralf Schumacher is going to have to do a lot to justify a new contract in 2005 and it is hard to imagine that the team will even consider paying him the kind of money he is currently getting. One reason for this is that Juan Pablo Montoya will be wanting more money for his new contract, as at the moment he is paid about half the money that Schumacher Jr. gets and in recent months has been showing Ralf the way. But both men are relatively inconsistent at the moment and it is arguable that either is worth the $15m price tag that they would like to attach to themselves. The problem is that without Ferrari they have very little leverage to negotiate. Toyota might (conceivably) take one of them but it seems more likely that the Cologne team will want to use its money to invest in a better car before splashing out on a new driver. Renault is going backwards next year with a new engine and probably a different design team. Jaguar will possibly have a seat available next year unless Antonio Pizzonia ups his game a little more but the team is not into paying large salaries to drivers and there is not shortage of people capable of driving the green cars.
Jacques Villeneuve is going to have to take a major league pay-cut if he wants to stay at BAR-Honda next year and there is unlikely to be anywhere else which will pay him a fraction of the kind of money he is now earning. If the second BAR-Honda seat does come up, logic suggests that it will be Takuma Sato that gets it. He is quick and he is Japanese and partnered with Jenson Button would give BAR a nice team for the next few years.
The rest do not really have budgets to play in this league. Sauber will probably have a change at the end of the year and the most likely scenario would be for Ferrari to place Massa back there to get him nicely race-trained for 2005 when he will probably slip into Ferrari as Michael Schumacher's long-term replacement.
The future of Jordan and Minardi are sufficiently clouded at the moment that discussions of drivers for the future are really not relevant.
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