The (new) Michael Schumacher conspiracy

Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari, Monza, 2006There were plenty of conspiracy theories surrounding Michael Schumacher during his 16 years in the sport, from the supposed secret traction control system at Benetton to his outrageous parking stunt at Monaco this year.

And for some, the circumstances of his departure from the sport was one final piece of Schumacher subterfuge.

Did Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo use Schumacher’s refusal to partner Kimi Raikkonen to lever the German out of the team? That’s what many, including BusinessF1 and F1 Racing magazines, are claiming.

In a nine-page article (with no byline) in the December issue of BusinessF1 makes the sensational claim that Luca di Montezemolo pushed Michael Schumacher into retirement following a protracted dispute with Jean Todt.

Luca di Montezemolo, Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Monza, 2006It’s a sensational claim and in support of it the unnamed author (presumably BusinessF1 editor Tom Rubython) produces only a handful of unattributed ‘Ferrari insiders’ to support his argument. And the publication’s poor record in the courts is well-known. What, then, are we to make of it?

Schumacher’s retirement was announced amid emotional scenes at Monza, spiritual home of the Ferrari-mad Tifosi, where for many years it was customary for Ferrari to make announcements on changes to their driver line-up.

The official story from Ferrari insists that Schumacher made his decision to retire after the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in July, just two months before Monza. The BusinessF1 piece ignores this.

The BusinessF1 argument has the seductive, simplistic logic of a conspiracy theory. But tested, it doesn’t really hold water. If Schumacher really had been squeezed out at Ferrari, why would he not simply move to another top team in desperate need of a lead driver (Renault fit the bill perfectly) to exact revenge on the race track?

Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt, Ferrari, Monza, 2006The conspiracy theorists might say, “there’s no smoke without fire,” and, to a point, they may be right. The exact circumstances surrounding Schumacher’s departure are not yet known and it does indeed seem as though he was unwilling to have Raikkonen as a team mate.

F1Racing summed up the strangeness of Schumacher’s departure speech convincingly thus:

Could Schumacher – a ruthless, powerful seven-tie world champion, no less – really have been equivocating about the future status of a thus far unproven Brazilian makeweight? Of course not.

But BusinessF1′s sensational claims are just too wild to give credit to without stronger backup. Montezemolo and Todt warring over Marlboro money? The most successful drive in F1 history reduced to a mere pawn in a bitter internecine battle?

I don’t buy that.

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