Apr 25, 2005
Competition Returns to F1By JR Nerad
Michael Schumacher might still win this year's Formula One Driver's Championship, but it will certainly be an uphill climb. For the racer who has won the title in a walk the last several years, this season is uncharted territory. Certainly there were times in his career when Schumacher hasn't been the favorite to win each race, but his run the past several years at the helm of dominant Ferrari racing cars has made a competitive field in F1 seem like a relic from the deep dark past.
But the past is prologue to this season which seems unusual but actually is more like Grand Prix racing is supposed to be. Ferrari's machinelike domination of the series has ended, at least if the first few races of this season are an indication, and a new star, Renault's Fernando Alonso, has emerged. Funny how one's driving skill comes to the fore when one drives competitive machinery.
Meanwhile, Schumacher the Great is in the midst of trying to renew his contract with Ferrari, a contract that is said to be the richest sports deal ever. With Ferrari's fortunes dropping it might not be the most auspicious time to negotiate a new agreement, especially because, at 36, Schumacher is already old for an F1 driver, and he's already contracted to drive for the team until he's nearly 38. There is no doubt Schumacher still has the skills to compete at the highest level of the sport, but one has to wonder if his regimen will get tiresome as he approaches 40. After all, what more does the seven-time World Champion have to prove?
While Schumacher has nothing to prove, the management of the Ferrari team has a lot to answer for these days. After the aforementioned dominance of the series over the last several seasons, Ferrari began the 2005 campaign in disastrous fashion. Its braintrust decided to start the year with an altered version of last year's racecar, and it proved shockingly uncompetitive. This, of course, led to serious second-guessing since it is hard to imagine why a team with Ferrari's resources and obvious logistical skills could fail to get its new car ready in time for the season's start. Even worse, when Ferrari rushed the new Ferrari F2005 into action two races ahead of the original timetable, it got off to a miserable start with mechanical problems very uncharacteristic of recent Ferrari racing machines.
So while Ferrari tries to sort out its deal with the greatest Grand Prix driver of this generation (and, arguably, any generation) it also has to sort out its equipment before the season escapes. At the same time, don't be too surprised if McLaren and Williams crack the winner's circle this season, joining Renault in a newly competitive F1 picture.
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