Even without Schumacher, F1 cruising merrily along
Folks worried about the future of F1 after Michael Schumacher's sudden retirement in '06. Worry no more. With Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso steering the ship, F1 is in capable hands, writes Dan Knutson.
I really cannot say that have I found fresh challenges that would excite me so far.
F1 has a sensational rookie in Hamilton and a tenacious double world champion in Alonso. Massa has matured into a winning driver. And Raikkonen, released from the over-controlling McLaren team, is getting into the groove with the more free-spirited Ferrari.Even if McLaren suffers sanctions because of the spy scandal it has been an exciting season.There are other new young guns out there as well, such as Robert Kubica, who finished third (his first F1 podium) in the same race that Schumacher announced his retirement, and Heikki Kovalainen, whose true potential has been masked by an uncompetitive Renault.Other things that have kept F1 in the headlines in the post-Schumacher era include the family feud between Alonso and Hamilton, and the spy scandal.
Schumacher remains close with Ferrari team boss Jean Todt and with Massa.
There is no relationship with Raikkonen. After Raikkonen won the season-opening Grand Prix for Ferrari, Schumacher, watching the race on TV in Europe, telephoned Todt in Australia.As Raikkonen headed for the podium to celebrate, Todt handed him the phone so that Schumacher could congratulate him. Raikkonen said he couldn't hear. And you can be pretty sure he didn't want to hear. This is his time at Ferrari, not Schumacher's.Schumacher attended five races this year, monitoring the race on the pit wall and sitting in the technical debriefings with the Ferrari engineers and drivers.Ferrari says he is a member of the family and that his wealth of experience makes his input invaluable. Yet you also get the uncomfortable feeling that it's sort of like having an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend hanging around.In fact, Schumacher admits he feels like the odd man out and he does not plan to attend any more races this year."I really cannot say that have I found fresh challenges that would excite me so far," he told reporters at the track recently. "At Ferrari, there are constantly new opportunities coming up. But I could not pinpoint what exactly would be right for me."There is one thing I adore, however, helping to develop road cars. That is a lot of fun, and I believe that I can be of help [with that]."His ability to help develop the F1 car is limited."I have to admit that my knowledge is restricted by time," he told the Swiss magazine Motorsport Aktuell. "I would have to freshen it up constantly in order to be of help. I see many former drivers who try to comment on what is going on, but they are struggling. They are simply no longer deep in the business anymore."From the current Ferrari driver's perspective, just how influential and beneficial has Schumacher's presence been for the team?"It is difficult to say for sure," Raikkonen said. "He has a lot of experience in F1, but I don't know how much, or what he has actually done. I don't ask who has done what and who is responsible."Massa has benefited from Schumacher's advice, although Massa insists that Schumacher is not his driver coach.Overall, fan attendance at the Grand Prix circuits this year has not dropped dramatically in the post-Schumacher era. And TV viewing figures, even in Schumacher's native Germany, are pretty much on par with last year. In fact, both fan turnout and TV turn-on has increased in some countries.Yes the F1 world is different without Schumacher, but it continues on its merry and sometimes controversial way.Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.