AUGUST 3, 2006
A Brawn sabbatical
The rumours of a Ross Brawn sabbatical are, without question, linked to the question of what Michael Schumacher is going to do next year, just as the future of Jean Todt remains in limbo at the moment, saying that the team's structure will be known at the end of the season. If Schumacher stays - and the rumours about Todt and Brawn would not exist if he had decided his future - then it is anticipated that both men would stay on for another year or two as well. But there is also probably an element of long-term positioning involved in the rumours as well. Ross Brawn is an ambitious man and perhaps he wants to step into Todt's shoes when the little Frenchman goes off to do whatever it is that he wants to do in the future. That has certainly been the belief in recent years. So if Brawn is talking about a sabbatical it may be more than just taking a rest. It may be part of a negotiating process for the new structure of the team - and indeed the Ferrari company for let us not forget that Todt heads not only the racing department but also has an important role in the road car business as well. Whatever the details, what this rumour shows is that Ferrari is in the process of a make-over and we will have to see what comes out at the end.
However, there is one other point that needs to be considered. There is pushing and shoving in the Ferrari management and elsewhere in the paddock driving deals are being done. It had been thought that the market would sit and wait for Michael Schumacher. That is not happening. The news that Mark Webber has voluntarily departed from Williams suggests that he has a clear idea of what he is doing, as does Williams's swift decision to sign Alexander Wurz. If Webber knows where he is going, it cannot be too hard to guess because there are only two real opportunities that offer more potential than Williams: one with Renault and one with McLaren. The McLaren idea seems unlikely for two reasons. The team is in the position where it can afford to take a risk with Lewis Hamilton; and the failure to sign Hamilton would leave the door open for someone else to offer the youngster a deal, which is not something that McLaren can really afford.
Thus Webber's best chance must be Renault and if he is confident enough to walk away from Williams, there must be a clear sign that he will get Fernando Alonso's drive. And that means that Kimi Raikkonen will not. This means that the Finn will be at Ferrari and that hints at Michael Schumacher retiring, because it is still inconceivable that Schumacher and Raikkonen will go head-to-head in Ferraris.
All these elements point to one thing: a Schumacher retirement that the team management is attempting to disguise.
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