I fear there will be some disparity between what we would like him to do (which according to polling on this website is drive at Le Mans) and how he will actually spend his time.
However much I’d like to see him return to Le Mans (how many remember one of his smaller claims to fame is fastest lap of the race in 1991 en route to 5th overall in a Mercedes C11?), I can’t see it happening. Nor can I see him doing Indycars, DTM, WRC, MotoGP or the European Tiddlywinks Championship.
However I can see him in an ambassadorial role for Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes has always demonstrated phenomenal loyalty to its brightest stars. It looked after Fangio for the rest of his days after he retired and even now retains an association with Stirling Moss despite the fact that he raced for them for just one season and won just a single World Championship Grand Prix in their cars, and that some 57 years ago. And quite right too: Stirling also won the TT, Targa Florio and Mille Miglia for them and delivered the world sports car championship.
But I digress. Mercedes will want to look after Michael and while Ross Brawn remains on the strength, I expect an ambassadorial role awaits. Problem is that, if rumour is to be believed, Michael got bored to death doing the same for Fiat and Ferrari. How best, then, to retain his interest?
I’d get him involved in car development to an extent never seen before. Car companies are fond of trumpeting that their latest supercar has been developed by their latest superstar, but it’s rarely true. I have, for instance, seen Ayrton Senna described as ‘the true father of the Honda NSX’ despite the fact that in a development process that took over five years to go from drawing board to showroom, he spent but a single day in the car. And I’m sure the feedback he gave in a couple of sessions at Suzuka was useful to the engineers, but not half as useful as it was to the PR men.
Of Michael’s many qualities, four make him perfect for this role. First and most obviously he can pedal a bit. Second, the man has a brain the size of Berlin. Third, he was always the hardest working driver in F1 and, fourth but probably most importantly, he has enjoyed excellent relations with most of the engineers with whom he’s worked. This means you have a man who can get the most out of a car, identify what it’s doing right and wrong, be able to communicate those thoughts to those in a position to act and strive tireless to improve the result still further.
What would be in it for Schumacher beyond the fact that I imagine he will continue to be well rewarded for his time? Simply the knowledge that his input has made a real difference to improving even in a small way the quality of life of millions of people around the world. The life of an F1 driver is a necessarily and ultimately selfish occupation as you strive to win a championship that will deem you the greatest driver currently standing on the earth. This would allow Michael to be engaged and interested in something that actually matters while, as the phrase goes, putting something back.
As for Mercedes, the draw is clear: it might be able to employ dozens or even hundreds of engineers for what they’d need to pay Michael, but the payoff – being able demonstrate beyond dispute that its cars are now developed by the statistically greatest driver who ever lived – would be priceless.