Egmont's column: Just in jest
So, was Michael Schumacher holding us for fools? Was he ever serious about his comeback, or did he do it just as a joke?
Luca put the phone down. He sighed.
“Exactly what I had feared,” he said to his right hand man, also called Luca.
“What?” said this other Luca.
“He’s not racing.”
“Who? Schumacher? But you said only this morning that he’ll test again this week, at Fiorano.”
“Yes,” Luca No. 1 answered. “But that was before he’d been told that Ferrari won’t re-introduce team orders for him.”
“Who told him that?”
“Stefano Domenicali. Michael didn’t believe Stefano. So he phoned me. I confirmed. So he asked me where Todt was. ‘No use asking him,’ I said. ‘Todt is no longer with Ferrari.’ ‘But he’ll be President of the FIA soon,’ Michael said. ‘Not if Ferrari could help it,’ I countered.”
“Upon which Schumacher pulled out?”
“Yes. He actually put the phone down in my ear. But he called back soon enough. We had to find an acceptable excuse for him not to go racing after half of Germany and the tifosi had bought tickets for Valencia. So we embellished a bit on this story of that mysterious fall he had with his motorbike, of which little is known except that he now has a pain in the neck. Much like Bob Dylan’s bike accident in the ’60s, I suppose.”
“Little is known of Schumacher’s fall because it wasn’t sponsored,” Luca No. 2 said, cynically. “If he could find a sponsor like Tic-Tac to crash his bike, he’d do it. Especially if he could tick-tack somebody else.”
Luca No. 2 never liked Michael. Not after his father had told him how German tanks crashed into their house in the south of Italy, during the Second World War.
At first, the young Brasi couldn’t understand, as the two fascist regimes had fought side-by-side to infamous defeat.
But then his father explained how he had a big argument with the German soldiers about Il Duce and Der Führer. Mussolini, the Germans said, couldn’t even hang himself. Why was he trying to do it to a whole nation? Hitler, the answer came, would one day be the hero of a despicable little racing impresario with roundabout ties to that useless English Fascist, Oswald M.
That’s when the Panzers flattened old man Brasi’s house.
From that day onwards, Luca never liked Germans crashing into things, except if they could swastika themselves. It’s not honorable, in any case, to take opponents out by something as devious as a car. According to Luca, you do it with a gun, a knife or a piano cord.
So Luca Brasi hated Michael Schumacher.
“Shall I tie his helmet to his head, boss,” he asked, “with a piano cord?”
Luca No. 1 looked alarmed.
“Have you gone mad, Brasi? The days of the Godfather are long gone. Agnelli died at least six years ago. John Gotti is in jail. And Berlusconi is headed for a fall with this prostitute thing.”
“He can always get some tips from Max on how to survive it,” Brasi reasoned. “They’ll like each other. Max can help Silvio to the precidency of the FIA. That’s obviously a better job than being Prime Minister of Italy; Max had five girls, Silvio only one. Silvio stuffs tax payers around, Max does it to billionaires. Mind you, with Silvio as FIA President, your Todt headache will disappear.”
Luca M didn’t answer. He pondered the souring of relations between him and the Toad, as he now calls Napoleon’s froggy little countryman.
Insistence gets you nowhere
Part of the souring started when he, Montezemolo, insisted that Kimi Raikkonen would drive one of Ferrari’s F1 cars for 2007.
“Schumacher was free to drive the other,” Luca No. 1 proceeded to explain to Luca No. 2, as if he’d never done it before. “But rather than risk his reputation against the Flying Finn – as Kimi was known in those days, because he was still flying, indeed – Mick opted to retire.”
How he must now wish he never had. Ferrari couldn’t keep control over the Kimster and his racing kept on flying, straight out of the window. Kimi doesn’t do debriefs. He only drives the car. The only time he opens his mouth is for another sip of vodka. Then he opens his fly. He has not been known as the Fly-ing Finn for nothing. He flew again, a short while ago, in the Rally of Flyland.
Signing him for the money he is paid nowadays by Maranello was the worst deal in the automotive world since Bernd Pischetsrieder sold Bentley to Ferdinand Piëch, for the price of Bentley and Rolls put together – Piëch believing, wrongly, that he had both.
If fact, he’d been Rolled over. At least the headline was a little bit softer than: ‘Kimi Rolls in Flyland’.
“We’re paying the Rai $40 million per year, more than next year’s entire team budget, and he’s done nothing,” lamented Montezemolo. “He’s gone frigid. If a girl does that to Silvio or Max, she’ll end up in the cooker. For theft. Or to thaw. Mama Mia, help Kimi to thaw!”
“Well, Kimi’s not done exactly nothing. He’s won a world title,” Luca Brasi corrected.
“One! ONE!” Luca M cried. “Mick would have won four!”
“Nope. He’s only been out of the team for three years. I think this Kimi thing is driving you nuts.”
“Exactly,” Luca Monte admitted. “I now have to give him a Grande Punto Abarth and pay him to race in WRC, plus dock up his Ferrari salary for next year, to make way for Alonso. How much more would he like to ask for?”
“At least he’s never asked for team orders,” Brasi chipped in. “Or for a bigger engine at Monza.”
“That’s true,” Monte mused. “And now that you’re mentioning it, Michael kept on mumbling something about a Monza return.”
“Was he talking engines?”
“Well, probably. He wanted a bigger one. I misunderstood, I guess. Said I couldn’t help him. But of course, he was referring to engines. How’s the 2.8-litre V10 coming on for Monza?”
“You mean the 3.0-litre V10, remember? According to our calculations, 2.8-litre Ferraris wouldn’t be able to catch the bulls of Pamplona in a straight line, let alone the Red Bulls at Monza, especially with so little KERS energy having been stored around a track where guys like Montoya never even touched the brakes, except for chicanes.”
“He didn’t touch the brakes, right, but he couldn’t touch Kimi either,” Monte Z exasperated. “And where is the Iceman now? The other day on the grid he said he’s not going to get into his car. ‘What?’ I shouted. ‘Don’t worry, Luca,’ he laughed. ‘If you call it a pubicle instead of a cockpit cubicle, I’ll be in there in a flash.’ He’s taking the mickey out of me, young Kimi!”
“Well, he’s taken the Mick out of Ferrari as well,” Brasi said. “But that’s not what worries me. What does, is that we should be known as the Red Bulls of the paddock. Now we’re the Yellow Shields, the black horses, the limping ones, especially after Schumacher has turned yellow belly on us. Because of a pain in the neck, my arse! He is a pain in the neck!”
"Fine young boy"
Monte Z Molo was very unhappy about this turn of phrase.
“Hang on, Brasi, not so fast. Apart from team orders, crashing into other title contenders, parking his car in Monaco to block qualifying and being a bit underhand in his collaboration with old buddy Brawn when they worked out exactly when, where and how that spring had to be loosened to hit Massa right in the face, Michael is actually a very, very fine young boy.”
Luca No. 2 looked confused. What’s Brawn got to do with this?
“Well, Ross wanted to stop Rubens from challenging Button,” Monte Z Molo explained. “And Michael wanted to race again. So they teamed up to eliminate two Brazilians with one spring.”
“But why Massa, who is Schumacher’s friend, and not Kimi?” Brasi asked.
“That’s exactly the point,” Montezemolo answered. “Mick had already beaten Massa. Now that he sensed how vulnerable Raikkonen is, the Iceman having lost interest in F1, he wanted to beat this guy too, the one who had taken his F1 seat. Michael was more interested in Valentino Brasi as team mate at one point. Or what was that cyclist’s name, Rossi? Mick wanted an easy run to the flag for at least three more titles. With woosies like Irvine and Barrichello as ‘partners’, easy peasy was Michael’s game. Even Button can whip Barrichello. And when it wasn’t all that easy, we always had team orders. The fact that Felipe was getting a bit quick for him at stages therefore didn’t worry Mick. He could always control Felipe. He even controls his life to this very day, in more ways than one!”
“That’s sick,” Luca No. 2 said.
“No. It’s clever. Except that Michael had forgotten about our lack of team orders, post-Schumacher.”
“That’s an elementary thing to forget,” Luca No. 2 said. “Maybe he did fracture his skull earlier this year.”
“Perhaps,” Luca No. 1 admitted. “And perhaps he had closed the door on a F1 return too soon. Let me get up and phone him about that bigger engine at Monza. A 3.0-litre V10, you said? For Kimi as well? Then we better build a 4.0-litre for Michael. He is 40 years old, after all.”