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A lunch with Ferrari's president

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Jonathan Legard | 17:30 UK time, Friday, 18 December 2009

The prospect of Michael Schumacher racing again in Formula 1, in tandem with his old partner Ross Brawn, has generated huge excitement and anticipation around the world but at a snow-covered Maranello this week, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemelo appeared overwhelmed instead by a mixture of surprise, frustration and wistfulness at the prospect.

"Everbody in life can do what they prefer and I understand that there is somebody at 41 years old who wants to try again," he said.

"But it's another Michael. I know Michael, and the real Michael has confirmed to me that he will finish his career at Ferrari."

It was as if the 62-year-old Italian didn't want to believe what Schumacher himself had said during their phone conversation on Wednesday.

And yet it was the seven time world champion's former boss who'd called on the German little more than four months ago to break his retirement for that abortive comeback in place of the injured Felipe Massa.

Did Di Montezemolo not fully appreciate that he had reignited the flame that had been reluctantly turned down in 2006 as Kimi Raikkonen was moved in to Ferrari in Schumacher's place?

Is the Ferrari president kicking himself for not doing more to ensure that F1's most successful driver was back on the grid for Ferrari?

Or does he fear that Schumacher may do his fearsome reputation more harm than good by trying to beat the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel - who is almost 20 years his junior?

Throughout a typically good-natured, wide ranging discussion, over lunch at Ferrari's Fiorano test track, Di Montezemelo consistently talked about the returning Schumacher as the "twin" of the "real" champion.

Di Montezemolo and and team principal Stefano Domenicali, who was also at the lunch, referred in similar terms to Raikkonen and his disappointing performances in the second half of 2008.

On this occasion, Di Montezemolo said the Finn "went around fishing" while Massa was fighting it out with Hamilton for the championship!

But listening to him talk about how quickly Schumacher had agreed to replace Massa in the summer of this year underlined why the speculation about a comeback never went away.

Michael Schumacher and Luca di MontezemoloSchumacher won five titles for Ferrari under Di Montezemolo's stewardship of the team

"At the end of July, when I called him into my office, I said: 'Listen, I need you to replace Felipe," Di Montezemolo explained. "For five minutes, not 10 minutes, (it was) no, no, then yes!"

"'You can convince me very well,' he said. It was not the truth. He was ready to be convinced. That was a different story.

"Unfortunately he was not able to prove himself. By replacing Massa in the middle of the season in a car that was not so competitive meant the pressure was not so big."

Di Montezemolo also revealed a little about the reasons for Schumacher's retirement in 2006.

"He told me that if he could arrive on the Saturday, not the Friday, just to make the qualification for the pole, then the race and then disappear, yes (that would be good)."

Given the current limit on testing, which could impact significantly on him ahead of the opening grand prix in Bahrain next March, you'd expect Schumacher to take a different view on time in the car during Friday's practice sessions should he return in 2010.

Having Schumacher on stand-by in case Massa's injuries prevented him from driving again was, apparently, never an option.

The German's own neck injury was clearly a major problem, with a doctor's decision only likely at the turn of the year.

And once Massa was making good progress and negotiations with Renault over Alonso's move had gathered pace towards a deal for 2010, there was no place for Schumacher at his old team.

But that's not to say Di Montezemolo didn't want him racing again in a Ferrari.

"We tried to push for the third car, not for Ferrari, but a third Ferrari managed by another team," he explained.

"Formula 1 needs competitive teams, competitive drivers and to see Ferrari with an American team or a German team, or Spanish or British would be fantastic."

"I tried to do this. In that case the real Michael, not the new one, because he looked like he was ready to race with us."

US F1 or Campos with Michael Schumacher... intriguing.

But would a new entry really have been of genuine interest to a driver who's accustomed to being a championship contender?

His imminent return with the world champion team, albeit rebranded as Mercedes, would seem a suitable answer.

Without doubt, that prospect turns up the heat on the Ferrari design team to prepare a stronger car for 2010 than in 2009.

Di Montezemolo was keen to talk up the changes made by Domenicali to have "fresh air" in the team, referring in particular to the replacement of Gilles Simon by Luca Marmorini as engine and electronics director.

The team principal sitting opposite at the lunch table, and only referred to by his last name, was left in no doubt what was expected, with a double world champion such as Alonso brought into the line-up.

The Spanish contingent around the table hung on Di Montezemolo's every word, particularly when it was made clear that their man was expected to be a team player.

"One year without victory seems like a scandal. I'm disappointed. We were used to win (championships) in the last 10 years. We have to do a competitive car on the track," Domenicali was told.

The presentation box containing a 1:16 model Brawn double diffuser, with the words "If only we had been so sneaky..." was intended as a festive joke, but Domenicali and his engineers can't afford to be caught out again.

At least the Ferrari name remains in F1.

Mention of the third car idea recalled memories of the acrimony between the teams and the sport's leading officials over budgets, regulations and governance for much of the early part of last season.

"This was the only year since I became president of Ferrari when I was determined to stop Formula 1," admitted Di Montezemolo.

"It was a unanimous decision of the board - too much polemics, rules, not enough research.

"Now everything is over, even if we have paid a big price. Not to have BMW, not to Toyota, to have Renault in a different situation is not good for F1."

Even though he is no longer the chairman of the Formula 1 Teams' Association (Fota), Di Montzemolo still views himself as one of the sport's key statesmen.

He said he was certain that the priority of the new FIA president, Jean Todt - once his employee at Ferrari - "to recreate a different dialogue and atmosphere, be sure of the credibility of the sport".

(His predecessor, Max Mosley, hardly got a mention. Funny that...)

Bernie Ecclestone and Formula 1 Management (FOM), he said, "had to promote and modernise Formula 1 ready for the new years".

"This is what Ferrari will heavily try to improve in the next months. Ferrari will stay in Formula 1 until Formula 1 isn't Formula 1."

Whether his intended triangle of goodwill between FOM, Fota and the FIA can work in harmony is another fascination for 2010.

But it's my guess that Michael Schumacher's comeback will ensure most attention is riveted to the track.

Certainly, the manner in which the last Ferrari he helped develop, the 458 Italia, hurtled me round two post-lunch laps of Fiorano in the hands of a test driver, suggested Schumacher had lost none of his touch behind the wheel.


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  • 1. At 5:52pm on 18 Dec 2009, GFasulo wrote:

    Great blog Jonathan. You can dine on that for years.

    "And who have you had dinner with?"

    "No one famous, only Luca di Montezemolo, the president of the most famous Grand Prix team."

    As a lifelong Schumi fan, it would be superb if he could return.
    Until it is formally announced and until he competes in Friday Practice in Bahrain, I'll still be a tad sceptical because of his neck.

    Great blog, and I look forward to more great commentary and coverage in 2010.

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  • 2. At 6:05pm on 18 Dec 2009, andythetoonfan wrote:

    Hamilton vs Schumacher,i cannot wait to see this,this is shaping up to be one of the best grids in a long time with the fact Alonso and Massa are in the same Ferrari team, and whether they can work together or will Alonso demand to be the number 1 driver like he did at Mcclaren,also with Massa you have to wonder whether he will be the same following the crash and if he is not i would not be suprised to see Schumacher go back there,also how will Hamilton and Button work together as i sense they do not really get on with one another very well,however they will have a good car this year and will be towards the front of the grid,then you have mercedes with Rosberg,and you wonder whether he can step up to the plate and deal with the pressure around Schumacher.

    Then you have the dark horses noone is talking about like Red Bull who pushed Mercedes all the way last year,they still have one of the best drivers in the grid in Vettel and he can win races single handed,also you wonder whether Webber can add to the two race wins he had last year,Renault will also do well now there future is sorted and they have a good driver in Kubica who could lead them towards success much like Alonso did,Lotus also have a good driver line up in Kova and Glock and they could be up there as well on some occassions,i am also intrested to seeing how new drivers such as De Grassi,Kobayashi and paticularly Senna do.

    This is shaping up to be one of the best seasons yet.

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  • 3. At 6:07pm on 18 Dec 2009, Yacoob Moosa wrote:

    In my opinion MS is the greatest of all time. His return is exactly what F1 needs right now,

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  • 4. At 6:08pm on 18 Dec 2009, dom taylor f1 wrote:

    Once again a superb blog, Jonathan

    I hope Michael does return, it will be great if he cold return but until it is confirmed i will be very sceptical about whether it will actually go ahead.

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  • 5. At 6:19pm on 18 Dec 2009, BB wrote:

    Good Blog. I really want to see a competitive season for Ferrari next year hopefully a season that goes down to the wire. As for the return of Schumi well good luck to him, lets hope his reactions haven't left him, one things for sure he certainly isn't lacking experience.

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  • 6. At 6:49pm on 18 Dec 2009, cordas wrote:

    Great blog, I love the comments made by Luca regarding the possible return of Schumi they have given me a real laugh.

    @andythetoonfan - Not sure why you think Jenson and Lewis don't get on very well (they have been friends for years, long before Lewis got into F1), that said when they get strapped into the same car to go racing I suspect everything will become rather more serious. That said in the troubles with Alonso Lewis did his best to try and stay clear of them (without giving an inch on the track), and Jenson has had troublesome team mates in the past, the most probably being Villeneuve who was throwing his toys out of the pram as soon as he heard who his team mate was going to be. Jenson's response was an interview to say that he would settle it on the track, where he gave Jac such a thrashing that he quit before the end of the season.

    Not sure why you rate Vettel so highly either, all he has done so far is prove that he can go very fast when he is in front. To my mind for Vettel to become DWC he needs to find a way to win races where he doesn't start from the front (all the more important now that fuel stops have been banned), I am not saying that Vettel isn't a world champion in waiting just that he still has to improve his skill set to become one. I think his staying at Red Bull is a risky decision, yes they have the great Newey to design the car but they will need to work hard to stay at the front, if I had been him I would have been looking for a Ferrari or McLaren to be driving next year.

    Lotus up there? Up where? Oh and its Trulli and Kovi driving for them not Glock and Kovi (which I think would be a far better line up) Glock is driving for Virgin with Di Grassi.

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  • 7. At 9:30pm on 18 Dec 2009, I_am_Sisyphus wrote:

    Sounds like sour grapes from Montezemolo, who was hell bent on getting Raikkonen, even at the cost of loosing Michael. Last year between them they got what they deserved, nothing!.
    Kimi never was a Ferrari driver, never will be, Stevie Wonder could see that. In fact he is not an any team driver this year, that's how much he is wanted.
    I can't wait to see Micael & Ross back together, better get that new telly ordered Luca! Forza Schumacher!

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  • 8. At 10:00pm on 18 Dec 2009, I_am_Sisyphus wrote:

    Luca is now calling Michael a traitor!!! The greatest driver ever to cross the Maranello threashold a traitor.
    Read this and all will soon become very clear:

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  • 9. At 10:55pm on 18 Dec 2009, Allen Goh wrote:

    Michael Schumacher should realise (like all "retired" champions hoping to make a return) that things have advanced and it will all end intears, or, in his case, as an "also ran" in the F1 field.

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  • 10. At 06:05am on 19 Dec 2009, lorus59 wrote:

    I think I am more excited with Kobayashi getting a drive for next season than Schumacher. I don't think there have been so many really talented drivers on the same grid as there will be next season.

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  • 11. At 08:07am on 19 Dec 2009, cordas wrote:

    @ I_am_Sisyphus - Are you daft? I am sure Ferrari were just jumping at the chance of kicking Schumi out the door, after all he had done nothing for the brand... What a load of gibberish. Personally I read what Luca said to be a rather tongue in cheek joke, one that says he wishes Schumi wasn't on grid in a rivals car and even if he wishes he wasn't there is no way he is going to stand in the way of his return.

    @ Allen Goh - because no retired champ making a come back has ever been an thing but a failure... Hmmmm...

    @ lorus59 - I am really glad Kobayashi is on the grid for next season, his 2 races at the end of last I felt were more than strong enough to get him a drive and if he can keep up that momentum Japan might finally have a driver capable of winning races so I understand where your coming from, but really? Your more excited about a promising rookie than the return of the 7 times world champion... Surely one of the most talented drivers on the grid next season will be Schumi (should he make a return)....

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  • 12. At 09:22am on 19 Dec 2009, U14039828 wrote:

    Should stay away Schumi. This is not a boxing ring ...

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  • 13. At 10:08am on 19 Dec 2009, Carlonso wrote:

    REF 12
    Well observed - It's not a boxing ring, so the comparison is utterly irrelevant, just like the link sent by REF 8...
    ...intriguing to read about the origins of why Ferrari were pushing for a third car...

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  • 14. At 10:44am on 19 Dec 2009, bazza001 wrote:

    Can't wait to see the young guns of Hamilton, Button, Vettel and Alonso serve Schumacher's backside up on a plate to him next year. It's going to be hilarious. Schumi only ever dominated because he had no real competition for so many years. He is going to regret this come back as he will irrevocably damage his reputation and legacy.

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  • 15. At 1:21pm on 19 Dec 2009, Lord_Lancashire wrote:

    As I watched Michael Schumacher's latter championships, which he won in such an effortless fashion, such was the dominance of Ferrari, and the incapability of any of the other teams to catch them - I also found myself watching, with anger, fans walking away from the sport. "Fans" have often brought up silly excuses for not watching any more even these days, and any excuse to feed their pathetic little whines I am against.

    Michael Schumacher returning to F1 used to make me feel well and truly nauseous - he had announced his retirement indefinately, back at the Italian GP of 2006, which for me at the time, was good news. He left, and we've had some fine years of new champions and up and coming talent taking his place.

    However, at the present time, having seen the back of him for 3 years, I am starting to think that a return may well be quite fun. Watching him battle with Hamilton, Vettel, Rosberg and Button will be almighty. Providing of course, that Mercedes don't produce a car of utter domination. I would cry so much.

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  • 16. At 1:43pm on 19 Dec 2009, MediaOverreaction wrote:

    excellent blog. I can't wait to see Hamilton take on Schumacher, I always thought it was a shame their careers just missed each other.

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  • 17. At 1:51pm on 19 Dec 2009, cordas wrote:

    @15 - Apparently we don't need to worry about Schumi domination, because according to some people he is going to occupy all 3 podium steps for every race next season but to balance that we also have the brigade that says he is going fail utterly.

    Personally I am just looking forward to what happens on the track, because I think thats where it will actually be decided (shocking I know) ;-)

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  • 18. At 2:01pm on 19 Dec 2009, blunnbottle3 wrote:

    I think Schuuu"s return as a driver would be a mistake , but as a team principal quite another matter.

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  • 19. At 3:40pm on 19 Dec 2009, cordas wrote:

    Why would it be a mistake as a driver?

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  • 20. At 5:00pm on 19 Dec 2009, ben hakes wrote:

    i dont care about schumacher i just want to see button wipe the floor with hamilton

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  • 21. At 5:13pm on 19 Dec 2009, Johnbouy wrote:

    Jonathon L. fantastic blog. It shows the power of Ferrari in Formula 1.
    Maybe Mercedes have plan to usurp them. Michael S is the route to do this?

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  • 22. At 8:18pm on 19 Dec 2009, blunnbottle3 wrote:


    He has got nothing to prove, and its a young mans sport, at 10/10 tents.

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  • 23. At 00:13am on 20 Dec 2009, me wrote:

    20. ben hakes wrote:
    'i dont care about schumacher i just want to see button wipe the floor with hamilton'

    I'd like to see West Ham wipe the floor with Man Utd and Chelasea, and go on to win the league. And the good news for me is of the two of us I've got more chance of my dream coming true ;-)

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  • 24. At 02:55am on 20 Dec 2009, Carlonso wrote:

    REF 23
    about Button wiping the floor with's called a bucket and mop...and I wouldn't expect McLaren to have anything less than a showroom shine in their paddock next season...

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  • 25. At 08:32am on 20 Dec 2009, rixroxsta wrote:

    There speaks someone who never saw Senna I'll wager.

    REF14 and 23
    Oh so true. :o)

    Should be fun to watch though.

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  • 26. At 3:48pm on 20 Dec 2009, cordas wrote:

    @22 He has something to prove... that he still has it, although I doubt thats why he is coming back (and its certainly not the money 7mil might be gad a send to us mere mortals but its nothing to him and probably less than he is going to loose from all of his Ferrari/sponsor deals). As for it being a young man's sport I suggest you go and read up about Fangio who won all 5 of his titles in his 40s... and that was back when cars where cars and you needed to be a 'real man' to drive them, none of these easy to drive cars we have nowadays.

    Personally I think he is probably coming back because he misses the thrill and wants to compete (as he has been doing in a number of different motor sports since he 'retired'), I think he sees new cars and new challengers and is just itching to see if he still has it. Given the testing times he posted in an old car when looking to replace Massa it seems to me he still has, and if you look at his results in the Race of Champions and karting then I think its daft to think he will be anything but on the pace next season, if the car is good enough.

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  • 27. At 4:12pm on 20 Dec 2009, Richard Horton wrote:

    Its the Brits versus the Germans!! Cant wait for the first race next year!

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  • 28. At 7:00pm on 20 Dec 2009, me wrote:

    #27 The only trouble with Brits v Germans is we only win if the Russians are on our side - 1914, 1945, 1966.... ;-)

    And as far as I know Team Moskvich hasn't got a place on the grid yet.. though maybe Roman Abramovich could be persuaded to buy Sauber or something!

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  • 29. At 01:29am on 21 Dec 2009, Carlonso wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 30. At 09:41am on 21 Dec 2009, Reality Check wrote:

    Montze's really worried bless him.. he's got his best 'ex' driver in a competitive car produced by his best 'ex' technical director..

    For once I'll be rooting for Schumi to kick some Ferrari (and Alonso... don't think Massa's got it anymore) backside..

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  • 31. At 12:22pm on 21 Dec 2009, Belal Kala wrote:

    Cross fingers. The greatest of all drivers will be back and it will be great formula 1 2010 season next year. Let hope that Mercedes provides him with a competitive car. Can't wait to see Schumacher on the track with Hamilton!!

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  • 32. At 1:15pm on 21 Dec 2009, david wrote:

    The sign of a true champion is to know when to retire, being beaten by Alonso two years on the trot was the time to call it a day. Don't get me wrong it's going to be great to see him back on the grid but i'm hoping it'll be a Lauda and not a Mansell comeback... He may regret this decision.

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  • 33. At 2:00pm on 21 Dec 2009, blunnbottle3 wrote:

    @26 dont get me wrong.
    I was lucky enough to see the greats of the 50/60
    To see Fangio power sliding through woodcott, exactly on the same line every lap, will last in my memory for ever.
    But the sport has moved on ,and today it is not only car control that wins races.
    reaction times is one of the key issues.

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  • 34. At 4:35pm on 21 Dec 2009, S2K wrote:

    I just think Ferrari must be grateful for what Michael did for them say thank you and good luck!

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  • 35. At 4:56pm on 21 Dec 2009, Carlonso wrote:

    Dear BBC,
    why is it that every time I refer to Michael Schumacher as someone who I would like to encounter on the second working day of the week that I find myself answering to the moderators??...why??

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  • 36. At 12:39pm on 22 Dec 2009, Pete wrote:

    What did you have for lunch Jonathan?

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