Wednesday May 30th, 2001
Ralf Schumacher is close to securing a long-term deal that could take him to the Formula One world title with Williams, his manager Willi Weber said on Wednesday.
"At the moment we are negotiating with team chief Frank Williams about what happens after 2002," Weber told RTL television's Formula One website (www.rtl.de).
"We are on the brink of an agreement. We are well on the way to doing something similar with Ralf as we did with Michael and concluding a long term agreement," added Weber, who manages both Schumacher brothers.
Ralf's older brother Michael last week signed an extension of his contract with Ferrari - thought by insiders in the sport to be worth $33 million - that keeps the German triple champion at the Italian team until the end of 2004.
If Ralf does sign a long-term extension with Williams, it will inevitably raise questions about the future career options for young Briton Jenson Button.
According to Formula One sources, the younger Schumacher's current Colombian teammate Juan Pablo Montoya also has a contract that takes him well beyond 2002. Button, the 21-year-old who impressed many people in his debut season with Williams last season, has signed a long-term deal and is on loan to Renault-owned Benetton until the end of 2002.
However he has struggled to make much of an impact this year in an uncompetitive car. Ralf took his first Grand Prix win at Imola last month in what was also Williams' first victory since 1997 when they were a dominant force in Formula One.
That victory made the Schumachers the only winning brothers in Formula One history. Weber said staying with the same team was crucial to long-term success.
"I believe that continuity is incredibly important if you want to be successful - be it a team or a driver. The times when drivers used to change teams every two or three years and started from the ground up, are over," he said.
"I am certain that BMW-Williams will be a position next year to win several races and I think they will be a contender for the title. It is just a question of whether they can win the title in 2002 or 2003."