Tifosi plead with Schumacher to stay

September 8th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Tifosi plead with Schumacher to stay

Fans, by definition, go to sporting events to see their team win, but there are fans whose mission extends beyond that, such as the 200 or so Ferrari aficionados who have set up camp in the main grandstand at Monza with one aim: to persuade Michael Schumacher to extend his Formula One career with the Italian team.
These are no ordinary fans: they are tifosi, wedded to all things Ferrari. They are clad in scarlet from head to foot and think only of victory for the Italian team.
Schumacher has supplied dozens of those, but his decade-long tenure of Ferrari's No 1 seat may come to an end this weekend. No one is suggesting that he goes the team would let him drive into his fifties if he wished but Schumi himself has suggested that now might be the time to end his lengthy career at the top of the sport.
Hence the encampment of tifosi, determined to encourage him to stay. Their banners say, "You are the only story", "Ferrari and Schumacher always No 1", and, more simply, "Thank you, Schumi", but they represent the most extreme manifestation of Italian sporting passion.
If you had to rank the sporting preferences of this extraordinary nation, you would put football first, Ferrari second and the rest nowhere. But that does not mean that the stern-jawed racer has a monopoly on Italian affection.
The fans like Schumacher, but they love Ferrari. They like the German because he wins races for their favourite team, not because he has a hotline to their hearts. His team-mate, Felipe Massa, is Brazilian but of Italian descent, and his approval ratings among the Monza faithful are high, as were those of the former No 2, Rubens Barrichello.
"Rubens always drove with a smile," said Franco Bartelli, a taxi driver from Milan taking time out in the grandstand. "He spoke Italian as well. Schumi is a wonderful driver, but he is not so easy to love."
Others are more enthusiastic, in particular the small army of paparazzi, who greet every appearance of Schumacher himself with a barrage of photo flashes.
The man at the centre of attention is not saying a word, and his florid manager, Willi Weber, is equally reticent. It seems that the world must wait for a press conference on Sunday to know the future of the most successful racing driver of all time.
Meanwhile, his rivals are queuing up to pay tribute to him, much in the manner of backbench MPs holding forth on a past incumbent of No 10 Downing Street.
The consensus among the drivers is that Big Schumi is fundamentally a good egg, although inclined to introspection while going about his business at the weekend.
"He's a great driver, he's a nice guy, and he is still fit, he's still quick," said Giancarlo Fisichella, the Renault No 2. "I would like to race with him next year."
It was hard to find anyone in the Monza paddock with a harsh word to say about the maybe retiree, and only Jacques Villeneuve, himself forced into recent retirement, has gone on the record with anti-Schumi feelings. The Canadian's point of view is that Schumacher is a terrific driver with an unfortunate penchant for cheating.
There are parallels with Italy's finest football teams, and it seems harsh that a weekend which will see the country come to terms with the humiliation of some of its most famous clubs might also bring the retirement of its favourite adoptive son.
Appropriate, then, that Schumacher may be missed as much for his footballing skills as his prowess behind the wheel. He is an enthusiastic and accomplished competitor in F1's regular charity matches. "We will miss him a little bit as a driver," said Toyota's Jarno Trulli. "We will miss him a lot in the football matches."

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