On Sunday 10th September 2006 at 3:25pm local time, just as Michael Schumacher passed the chequered flag to win the Italian Grand Prix, the Ferrari press officers in the pit-lane, on the instructions of their boss Luca Colajanni, started handing out a press release to journalists outside the Ferrari motor-home, announcing Michael Schumacher’s retirement. Colajanni had been given precise orders by Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo about just what he had to do and when he had to do it.
The timing was, needless to say, very strange indeed. Schumacher was about to make the announcement himself in the winner’s press conference after the podium ceremony. Normally, press releases are handed out after an announcement has been made, or during it, rarely before. So, when Schumacher made his announcement during the press conference, everyone sitting there already knew what he was going to say. The Ferrari team’s over-enthusiasm to announce its driver’s retirement was really bizarre. It was almost as if Ferrari had wanted to pre-empt the driver’s own announcement, to make sure there was no turning back.
Luca di Montezemolo had exercised a strong presence in the Ferrari garage at Monza all weekend. On qualifying day he hovered around the Ferrari motor-home evading journalists’ enquiries about what was going on. On race-day he arrived with John Elkann, the most senior member of the Agnelli family working at Fiat, and Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat. He also had Piero Ferrari in his entourage. It seemed that Luca had brought his own little personal army with him. It was soon to become clear why. Although everything looked normal in the Ferrari garage and motorhome, underneath the surface a civil war was concluding, in Montezemolo’s favour. It had been going on during the entire summer of 2006, but was finally going to come to an end today.
The truth of it was that Schumacher didn’t want to retire, at least not on that day. He had thought that he still had enough clout in Ferrari to get his way.
But Montezemolo had long before given him a deadline of Monza and told him (expressly against Jean Todt’s wishes) that it was either driving alongside Kimi Räikkönen in 2007 – or retirement.
In a previous age no one had dared tell Michael Schumacher what to do. He had been the king of F1 for 12 years and for half of them was easily the sport’s most powerful man, eclipsing even Bernie Ecclestone.
END OF PART 1
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