Michael Schumacher’s chances of racing on in Formula One next year looked a lot more likely on Saturday after a pole- worthy performance by the 43-year-old Mercedes driver in Monaco Grand Prix qualifying.
But for a five place grid penalty carried over from Spain, the seven times world champion would have been celebrating the first pole position of his comeback and the first since his Ferrari days in 2006.
Instead Red Bull’s Mark Webber will be starting the race from pole with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton behind him.
“I think it would be everybody’s wish after today’s performance,” team principal Ross Brawn told reporters when asked whether it was his desire for the German to agree a contract extension.
“Michael himself will know when it is time to retire and producing performances like today, why should he?”
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn
“Michael himself will know when it is time to retire and producing performances like today, why should he?
“He will continue as long as he can do what he did today.”
Schumacher, who ended three years of retirement to return for Mercedes in 2010, is out of contract at the end of the season and would not be drawn on the subject.
“You imagine that just because of one result I’ve done at this moment I’m suddenly restarting or opening a different subject,” he said.
“No, that’s not the case. I’m focused on what I’m doing right now.
“There will come a time when I will make a summary of everything and then I will sit down with the team to see what we’re going to do.”
The sport’s most successful driver has failed to make the podium since his return and has taken considerable criticism from those who think he is a long way past his best and making unforced errors.
Brawn has been saying for some time that Schumacher’s performances have been much better than the results suggest and Saturday was the opportunity the driver had been looking for to repay the team’s trust.
“It’s just sweet and a good feeling after you have come back and have hoped for better results in all circumstances at the end of the day, after why and what has happened,” he said.
“To finally get it together and being able to prove it – that’s much more important and therefore I’m certainly delighted.”
Retired Austrian triple champion Niki Lauda, watching as a pundit for RTL television, was impressed too.
“To do this lap here, under these conditions, was sensational,” he told Reuters.
|Webber recorded the second fastest lap in qualifying but will start on pole due to Schumacher’s penalty [GETTY]|
“He’s had so much stick but you can see what he can do when he gets stick.
“I was surprised today but (it was) a positive surprise. It means that he can still do it.”
Monaco is special for every Formula One driver, and particularly for Schumacher who has won there five times in a record-breaking career of 91 victories. He was thrilled.
“To manage pole position here after what I have gone through in the past two-and-a-half years is just fabulous,” he said, even if pole was really sixth place.
“That’s what sticks in my mind. I told you guys already…my situation is going to be pole, start the race in sixth and I’m going to win it. That’s what I’m here for and going to aim for.”
The last time Schumacher was on pole in Monaco, he was also stripped of it in a notorious controversy in which he drove gently into the barriers at the Rascasse corner to end the session and deny Fernando Alonso, then with Renault, a chance of taking pole.
Schumacher was sent to the back of the grid and Alonso, who will be alongside him on Sunday, took pole and the race.
“I’ll leave it up to the others to say what it means or doesn’t mean,” Schumacher, who had predicted a pole was possible before arriving in Monaco, said of his latest achievement.
“For me, I’m obviously excited, very happy. It confirms what I have felt for a long time. Sometimes you have to put
everything at the right moment together. Here it worked out.”