There aren’t many premium drives still open in the Formula 1 paddock for a once-retired and now-unemployed seven-time world champion driver like Michael Schumacher to secure.
The vacancy at McLaren was filled suspiciously quickly, almost as if they had already assumed that Lewis Hamilton would abandon them. Not that Sergio Perez would have needed too long to accept the offer of a drive.
Red Bull have long since secured their drivers for the 2013 season. Mercedes have famously filled their one available spot. Lotus-Renault potentially have a spot but it would help to be French to get it.
That leaves Ferrari.
Felipe Massa’s contract expires at the end of the year and his lacklustre performances over the last three years must surely have the team looking for someone—anyone—to replace him.
He has achieved a small improvement in his recent results and has scored over half of his season’s points in the last three races.
But is it too little, too late?
Over the three seasons that he has raced with Fernando Alonso, he has been outgunned by his teammate, 703 points to 313. This year Alonso has almost four times as many points.
Massa is costing his team constructor’s championships at the very least.
Before his jump to McLaren, Sergio Perez was linked to Massa’s seat but was considered too inexperienced by Luca di Montezemolo, according to the Daily Mail:
To put a young guy to Ferrari with the pressure of Ferrari, you need more experience.
Alonso has his own theory, he’s quoted in Australia’s Herald-Sun as saying:
I have been working with Felipe for three years now and we have a very good relationship and if the team decides to appoint someone different for next year, then that driver has to be better than Felipe.
One of the main criteria for a good relationship with Alonso is not to challenge him too much. His quote continues:
Anyone who comes to drive here must be a driver that respects Ferrari and the tradition of this team and the fact that here, we work for the team, for the red cars as our first priority.
Who better to fit that role than Michael Schumacher?
As Ferrari’s most successful driver ever, there can be none better placed to meet Fernando’s lofty ideals and who also easily passes di Montezemolo’s experience litmus test.
Surely the Tifosi would also be overjoyed to see him return.
If rumours are to believed, Sebastian Vettel could potentially move to Ferrari in 2014, meaning that there's a one-year gap to be filled by someone. It would be the perfect contract length for Schumacher to see out his career and bow out on his own terms.
Schumacher is playing his cards close with regard to his future, but going back into retirement looks the most likely outcome.
Sauber have offered the vacant seat to Schumacher, and while the benefits to the team are obvious, it’s difficult to see what he would get out of the deal except prolonging an already unsuccessful return to F1.
A spot at Ferrari would be the fairy-tale finish to a remarkable career—the last few years notwithstanding—by returning to the scene of his greatest success.
It’s just a pity that it’ll never happen.