JULY 10, 2003
Striking while the iron is hot
Willi Weber, the manager of Michael and Ralf Schumacher, is no fool. Ralf has won the last two races and Weber is now suddenly talking about extending the deal between Ralf and BMW Williams.
The current contract runs out at the end of 2004 and it has been clear in recent months that the team does not want to pay out the same kind of money as Ralf has been getting to date. This year Ralf is earning $15m, next year it will be $18m and no doubt Weber is arguing that in 2005 and 2006 it should get into the $20m bracket. Williams is unlikely to go for a deal like that. Weber has already tried to create the impression that there is interest for Ralf from Toyota and McLaren, but this was not a great success and in the back of his mind he must be aware that Williams is the team that dumped World Champions Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Damon Hill. Williams has always been a company where engineering come first and the money saved on a driver can be used to improve the car and so World Championships can be won by less talented drivers.
Neither Ralf nor Juan Pablo Montoya has been very impressive this year, despite the recent successes, and Frank Williams and Patrick Head are not men who will be carried away by the fervor of the moment. They know that right now they have the pick of the good youngsters in F1 and for reasonable prices. They also have the option to "do a Button" and hire an unknown youngster on a long-term deal or even put test driver Marc Gene into one of the cars. Spain is currently being targeted by F1 as a huge market needing to be exploited and having a Gene versus Alonso battle would certainly help the sport.
The BMW people may want to have a German driver but the choice rests with Williams.
Ralf's relationship with the team has never been a very warm one but this does not matter when a driver is producing the results. Montoya may get on better with the team but at the moment he is being beaten by Ralf and as a result his value is reducing and his contract is also up at the end of 2004.
Weber says that the decision is with Williams and that he and Ralf have both told the team that they wish to stay. It is anticipated that Williams will probably come back with an offer but it will not be the kind of numbers that Ralf and Weber want to hear.
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