Wednesday May 23rd, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Michael Schumacher says he could continue in Formula One even after his latest Ferrari contract expires in 2004 because he loves the sport so much.
News on Tuesday that the triple world champion had signed an extension to his contract taking him to the end of 2004, when he will be nearly 36, was greeted in Italy as a sign that the German would end his career with Ferrari.
"Schumacher Ferrarista for life," declared Wednesday's daily Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, pointing out that the richest driver in the sport might want by then to enjoy the fruits of his vast fortune. Schumacher told reporters, however, that the contract, estimated at 75 billion lire ($33.25 million) for 2002 alone according to the Gazzetta, was not necessarily taking him to the end of his career.
"I didn't know my life finished so early," he said, speaking in a Ferrari motorhome at the cramped Monaco Grand Prix harbourside paddock. "I want it to go on much longer. This does not mean that this (2004) will be the end of my career. We will see."
Asked whether he thought he could still be competitive in 2003 and 2004, Schumacher said simply: "Yes. That's my life. I need racing. That is why I am saying that I am not sure I am finished after 2004."
Schumacher, Ferrari's first world champion since 1979, said on Tuesday that the Italian team was like a second family to him and he repeated on Wednesday how at ease he felt there.
"It is a very good feeling," he said, confirming also that he had not considered moving to any other team. "Originally I was not intending to do it (renew the contract) so early but we have such an harmonious situation in the team. There really is a great spirit."
Ferrari's top officials, including technical director Ross Brawn, sporting director Jean Todt and designer Rory Byrne, have all extended their contracts with the team.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo also turned down the offer of a cabinet post in the new Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi to continue in his current job.
Schumacher gave his full backing to Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Wednesday and has signed up for another season with the team.
Barrichello's future at the team had been in doubt, at least for the media, after clear dissatisfaction with his role as a supporting driver to Schumacher's title challenge. At the last race in Austria, he was ordered to move over while in second place to let Schumacher through.
"Although we may have had some difficulties, in life not everything can be easy. What is important when you have a difficult time is what is the result of the discussion," said Schumacher. "There was no need to change. It is a logical decision for the team to keep the combination of Rubens and myself."
Schumacher, who leads McLaren's David Coulthard by four points in the championship after six races, said he did not think the timing of the announcement would give him a boost.
"I can't do more than I am doing already," he said.
Schumacher said his contract gave him "certain options" with the Fiat group, who own Ferrari, for the future but so did his last deal and there were no conditions beyond his racing career.
"When I retire, I will have no obligations," said the German, who joined Ferrari from Benetton in 1996. "I want to be free. But I still see this as too far away to decide what I want to do."