So many of the big silly season questions have now been answered. Hamilton is going to Mercedes. Perez is going to McLaren. Webber is staying with Red Bull. But the biggest question of all still hangs in the air. What are Michael Schumacher’s plans for 2013?
There are three possibilities for Schumacher: he could drive for another team, retire from the sport entirely, or move into a management/advisory role at Mercedes. Schumacher’s statement in the Mercedes press release regarding Hamilton’s move was not particularly illuminating:
“I have had three nice years with the team which unfortunately did not go as well as we all would have wanted on the sporting side. I wish Lewis well and for the team to achieve the success we worked so hard for in the build-up. I would like to thank the team for their trust and all the guys for their unconditional commitment. I will now concentrate on the next races.”
While it is certain that Schumacher will not be driving for Mercedes, there are other teams with available seats. Ferrari have not yet confirmed Felipe Massa for 2013, which suggests that his future with the Prancing Horse is still in doubt. Could Schumacher return to the team with which he had such an incredible run of success in the last decade? The prospect of Schumacher and Alonso as team-mates at Ferrari is mouth-watering.
Peter Sauber stated recently that he would be happy to offer Schumacher a drive in his team for 2013. With Sergio Perez moving to McLaren, there is a seat available. Sauber could also look to replace Kamui Kobayashi, who has been somewhat underwhelming this season. Schumacher raced Sauber-Mercedes cars in the 1990 and 1991 World Sportscar Championships, which gives him some history with the Sauber team, even if the association was not in F1.
If Schumacher intended to retire, it would have made sense for him to announce his departure from the sport before any announcements were made about his seat at Mercedes. If he intended to take up an advisory or ambassadorial role at Mercedes, that would involve his retirement from driving, which again would have merited an announcement before Hamilton’s future became clear. The lack of retirement announcement suggests that he is looking for a drive for 2013, which will please his legions of fans.
Schumacher’s first retirement came too early. He was still arguably the best driver in the sport in 2006, but he chose to hang up his helmet when he obviously still had more to offer. If he retires now, it will again be too early. He is generally driving well, certainly in the best form of his comeback, and would be winning races in a more competitive car. He returned to the sport to win another title, but has not yet had the equipment to achieve that aim. Unless he has lost the will to win, finding the most competitive drive available is his only sensible option.