Michael Schumacher admitted it has been Ferrari's worst season in years, but said he's determined to bounce back.
Schumacher's place in F1 history is assured but his swansong awaits
"We have to see things as they really are. Our year has been anything other than good," said the German ace who went into the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend in an uncharacteristic third place in the drivers' standings.
Schumacher spun out of the final race of the season leaving him in third and giving him no chance of catching Kimi Raikkonen who finished as runner up to Fernando Alonso in Shanghai and the world championship.
"We have never been competitive and never really been in a position to compete for the title, one that has been ours in recent times," said Schumacher. "I am still in third place in the drivers' standings. It has never been this bad."
Ferrari won 15 of the 18 races last year but have only won once this time around, in the controversial six-car United States Grand Prix, and Schumacher's best 'real' result has been a second place finish.
As career nears end, speculation remains
Despite a rough season, Ferarri wants Schumacher to keep driving
While Schumacher, 36, is clearly heading towards the twilight of his career, he has at least two more seasons left in him, his agent Willi Webber told the German press this week. But who the 84-race winner will be driving for when he finally calls it a day is up in the air.
There has been talk of him possibly leaving Ferrari and ending his career with the McLaren team, although this was quickly quashed by Webber. "Let's put an end to this rumor: I can categorically exclude (the possibility of) Michael Schumacher leaving Ferrari for McLaren-Mercedes," he told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten.
The rumor began because Schumacher, who won the last five world championships before Alonso dethroned him, had rejected a fresh contract from Ferrari. "First of all, Michael is doing fine at Ferrari and secondly, his image is much more in line with Ferrari and their sport cars than Mercedes and their luxury cars."
He added: "I can't say for definite but it's likely that 2008 will be his final season."
Current Ferrari not up to the job
A different car may help solve Schumacher's problems
Schumacher then has time to regain his crown, but he was not confident that he could produce his old magic in Shanghai in the current Ferrari car, a prediction that was proved tamely correct. "A podium at the end of the season would bewonderful but we have to realize that the chances of obtaining that are not too high," he said before the race.
"In any case, we will be trying our best to end the season in the best of ways." Unfortunately, the race ended in the same way as his season: in disappointment.
Ferrari boss Jean Todt still has every faith in his star driver and believes that by the time the 2006 season gets underway his car, which will be launched early to accelerate the Italian giant's fight back, will be back to its best.
"I can’t say that we can prepare more thoroughly, but we are attempting to reply to the problems that we’ve had this year," he said.
"Even if next year's car won’t be in its latest specification for the beginning of the season, considering the introduction of the new V8, 2.4 liter engine, we have decided to introduce the car as early as possible which is why we will introduce it by mid-January 06."
Third place in constructors' table tells own story
Ferrari's season is winding down
Ferrari also finished third in the constructors' championship, behind Renault and McLaren, Todt expressed mixed feelings about the season that ended after 19 races on Sunday.
"We know that Formula One is a mechanical sport where to win a race or score a good result you need a good package: reliability, team, chassis, tyres and engine," he said. "So our third place in the constructors’ championship is fairly significant.
"Having said that, two teams have been more competitive than Ferrari-Bridgestone so we knew that it’s something that could happen one day.