MICHAEL SCHUMACHER has informed Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo there is a “strong possibility” he will return to grand prix racing with the new Mercedes-Benz team next season.
The seven-time world champion is currently employed as an advisor to Ferrari, the team with whom he won five of his titles, and is an ambassador for their road car division, but has strongly been linked with a move to the firm’s German rivals.
Schumacher, who retired at the end of 2006, has so far remained tight-lipped on the matter, but Di Montezemolo informed reporters at Ferrari’s Christmas lunch in Fiorano yesterday that the deal is close to being realised.
“I hadn’t spoken to him since Abu Dhabi but I spoke to him on Wednesday,” Di Montezemolo said.
“He phoned me and he told me that there is a very, very, very strong possibility of joining Mercedes.
“Having said that, it is not 100% decided. But that is what he said yesterday.”
Should the deal come off, Schumacher would be joining the de facto constructors’ champions, following Mercedes’ takeover of Brawn GP at the end of last season.
The German manufacturers have already signed up Nico Rosberg to drive one of their cars in 2010, and the capture of the legendary Schumacher would complete a stellar all-German line-up to compete with the all-British McLaren package featuring world champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Schumacher’s desire to return to competitive action would effectively terminate his deep-rooted association with Ferrari, which dates back to 1996, and Di Montezemolo concedes he is powerless to stand in his way.
“The real Schumacher, the one I know, will remain forever part of the Ferrari family,” Di Montezemolo added.
“I said it in Monza and I repeated it in Abu Dhabi, but, it seems he has a twin brother, identical in every way, who seems to have it in his head to go and race in Formula One with Mercedes.
“I don’t know him personally, but it seems we have nothing to offer him: we have two young drivers in Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, on whom we are counting to deliver a lot next year.”
Schumacher, who turns 41 in just over a fortnight, was close to a comeback last season as understudy to Massa following the Brazilian’s accident in Hungary, and Di Montezemolo believes the disappointment of being unable to fulfil that role due to a neck injury has further stoked his competitive fires.
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