At the end of this year, the “Dream Team” of the last dozen years or so – and all of Schumacher’s successful years – will be free of contractual obligations to the Ferrari race team.
Ross Brawn, the phenomenally successful Technical Director of first Jaguar, then Benetton and latterly Ferrari is on a “sabbatical” this year. Chief Designer Rory Byrne has once again “retired to Thailand” as he did when he left Benetton and later resurfaced at Ferrari. Schumacher is calmly enjoying F1 from the Ferrari pitlane, lounging around and not doing much more than scaring the life out of Kimi Raikkonen, wondering what to do with his hundreds of millions of dollars – and keenly observing how a modern GP team is run from the pitwall. Nigel Stepney meanwhile is on gardening leave from Ferrari, “holidaying with his family in the Phillipines” – which isn’t so far away from Rory Byrne’s Thai hideaway.
At the same time, Ferrari itself seems to be imploding under the weight of its “Italianisation” process. They are accusing Nigel Stepney of criminal activity – but under Italian law this probably means no more then “has resigned from Ferrari”. Raikkonen has lost his edge, Massa no longer is (the massa), two aerodynamicists have left Ferrari, their wind tunnel has broken, and there must be untold political turmoil and upheaval in Ferrari as a whole. There are even rumours that Jean Todt and Luca de Montezemolo are leaving, Todt to “retirement” and Montezemolo to Fiat.
The Dream Team won 7 World Championships in the 13 years they were together, a phenomenal hit rate for a team in a sport with 10 teams competing, 6 of which being the teams of main car manufacturers. They have had loads of success – but one thing eludes them. They have never owned a team. And that may be one burning ambition they still need to reach out for.
With Jean Todt’s connections, Renault engines would be easy to procure. Brawn and Byrne together would make up a superb strategic team, with Stepney in charge of the engineering side, and with Schumacher providing the fuel for publicity, if not some money also.
We know that Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley are not going to be in their jobs forever, and Flavio Briatore is just the kind of person to want one of those particular jobs, thus leaving Renault with a vacuum. They clearly won’t be impressed with their current fall from grace. There may be room in Renault’s thought-kit for a new approach.
Whether the plan would work or not is anybody’s guess, I’m just speculating here. But it sounds plausible, and I can’t see this band of successaholics sitting around twiddling their thumbs forever more when they have so much life left in them.
They are almost certainly planning something. The question is though, exactly what?