Mercedes Schumacher move – crass marketing stunt

After weeks of speculation, it is set to be revealed today that Michael Schumacher has signed a three year deal with for Mercedes. The rumour first surfaced when Eddie Jordan opened his notoriously big mouth. Everyone laughed at the time, but as the weeks went on it became clearer that the prospect was serious.

By my reckoning, this is the first major decision taken by Mercedes since they bought the Brawn team. I feel that it is very revealing about the way a manufacturer approaches Formula 1, as opposed to a privateer team that is in it for the racing. While the lure of attracting the sport’s biggest name must surely attract any team owner, only a manufacturer would set their sights so firmly on the notion.

After all, aside from his reputation, there does not seem to be much going for Schumacher. At 41, he will be the oldest F1 driver since Nigel Mansell in 1995 — and we all know how that went. And it is difficult to think of someone who has taken a sabbatical of three years and made a successful return to F1.

Furthermore, I would have thought that after the embarrassing spectacle of the summer, when Schumacher threatened to return to race for Ferrari before deciding he wasn’t up to the task, he everyone concerned would have learnt their lesson. Michael Schumacher is struggling with what are now quite well-documented fitness problems.

His neck issues are now well publicised. James Allen revealed earlier this year that Schumacher also had problems with his back towards the end of his career in 2005.

With so many question marks surrounding his abilities, I find it difficult to see the justification for expecting Michael Schumacher to be truly competitive. There is no doubt that Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver of all time, certainly as far as statistics go. But the conditions surely just aren’t right for him to make a competitive return.

Yet, as we can all see, the prospect of Michael Schumacher returning to F1 generates a tremendous amount of publicity. It makes little sense in terms of racing, but in terms of marketing the possibility is apparently irresistible.

In other words, Schumacher is coming back to F1 for all the wrong reasons. And Mercedes have signed him for all the wrong reasons.

This move seems to be little more than a crass marketing stunt by Mercedes. Brawn would not have made this decision. Nor would any team other than Ferrari. Even Ferrari went off the idea after this year’s shenanigans.

I must say that I am disappointed in Mercedes. Throughout their involvement in F1 in the past couple of decades, they have seemed to be a very sensible operation indeed. They were a world away from the attention-seeking but ultimately hollow nature of other manufacturers, notably Toyota and Honda.

But as soon as they have been released from the leash of McLaren, Mercedes have revealed their mad side. This is a decision made by money-men, and I would be amazed if this approach doesn’t end in tears like it has done for Toyota and Honda.

I am also stunned at Michael Schumacher’s decision to bite. Just a few months ago he was talking about his flirtation with replacing Felipe Massa as though it was a moment of madness. Now he has let the blood rush to his head again and is putting his considerable reputation on the line.

It also reveals his supposed passion and love for Ferrari to be just as shallow as his sportsmanship. As soon as another company will promise to stuff more money into his wallet, he will move like a shot. Very passionate, very romantic!

This whole thing comes across to me as the world’s most public mid-life crisis.

11 comments

  1. Another crass article, im reminded why i stopped reading.

    Last i heard, it was Ross that approached Michael about the idea of racing in 2010 and that he is only being paid $6m a year, quite a pay cut from his usual standard.

    Its like he just wanted go racing again or something and money wasnt an issue. But that cant be right surely..

  2. I am a bit confused Dans. Ross Brawn is paid by Mercedes, so it is a Mercedes decision. If this was all about a Brawn / Schumacher tie-up, it would have happened last year. There were enough rumours. But of course there was no money involved back then so Schumacher wasn’t interested.

    I’d like to be paid “only” $6 million, and how this is a pay cut from the estimated £3 million (which is less than $5 million) he was being paid by Ferrari I cannot work out.

    One must also consider the fact that he had no binding agreement to continue working for Ferrari, and what agreement was there only existed as a favour in exchange for stepping in when Massa was injured. His future income stream from Ferrari was uncertain.

    I would dearly love to believe that Michael Schumacher simply wanted to go racing again. But he is known to have little interest in F1. That’s why he was happy to be paid by Ferrari for standing around wearing red. I fear that the only vehicle Schumacher is interested in is the gravy train.

  3. A different take on the matter Vee, since most people are in 7th heaven (myself among them) at the thought of Schuey returning. Perhaps we have attributed it to slightly more noble motivations?

    But on whichever side of the fence you sit in this matter, it’s going to be a hell of a ride !

  4. I don’t think he’s in it just to help Merc sell cars, but I do wonder if he’s serious about winning another championship. I predict he’ll be competitive and might score a win or two, but the younger hungrier drivers will be the ones gunning for the championship.

  5. Pink Peril — No doubt, it is going to be very, very interesting indeed to see how he does and I’m looking forward to it.

    RFS — I think that is a good assessment. It would be a surprise if he can’t win a race, especially with expectations that the Mercedes car will be good in 2010.

  6. Hey vee, just saw this article now. A clarification – from what I recall, Schumi’s time at Ferrari was well-paid. It’s closer to $50M than $5M.

    That said, you’re right, this seems to me like a midlife crisis. Basically, Michael got bored, he wanted to race again, but Ferrari couldn’t give him a car (remember the 3rd car saga they ran at the backend of 2009?). Sadly, it’s the only thing he knows.

    I’ve always said that even as a Schumi fan, he shouldn’t have come back. Monaco is a microcosm of that. He’s struggling to beat Nico, he gets grilled for old scandals, and the only good thing he does gets him penalized. He doesn’t need this. He deserves better.

  7. Thanks Journeyer! Good points. Even though things seem to be getting better for him (in the sense that he is not being comprehensively beaten by Nico Rosberg any more), he doesn’t seem to be getting an easy ride just now. I wonder if he regrets his decision.

    Somehow, I think he is nevertheless relishing being in a competitive situation, as his last-corner move on Alonso demonstrated.