Ferrari looking backwards with Schumacher move

Is Michael Schumacher's return to Formula One a better marketing stunt than it is an HR decision?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Business observers may be forgiven for doubting whether Ferrari’s move to bring back Michael Schumacher for the rest of the Formula One season is really a sensible hiring decision. OK, so the publicity will probably rake in some serious euros – so Ferrari and Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone may be laughing all the way to the bank. But is it really sensible to be re-hiring a star employee of the past, rather than looking to the future?

Admittedly Ferrari was in a difficult situation: it has no idea when its injured driver Felipe Massa might be fit to drive again (if at all), so it needed an interim solution. And Schumacher has one hell of a CV – with seven world championships and 91 grand prix wins to his name, he’s regarded in some quarters as the best racing driver of all time. He’s also been working with Ferrari as a consultant since retiring in 2006, so it’s not like he’s been sitting around watching the Jeremias Kylekopf Show for the last two years. In other words, he’s remained involved with the industry and kept his eye in. And the return of such a big name is bound to put a few extra bums on seats for the rest of the Formula One season.

On the other hand, he’s also forty years old and hasn’t driven competitively for two years. He hasn’t sat in a Ferrari for over a year, and now that in-season testing has been banned, he won’t be able to do so again until the next race rolls around. So he’s not exactly bang up to speed. He’s also recovering from neck and back injuries sustained in a motorbike accident earlier this year – so even if the spirit is willing, the body may be weak. The fact that he retired in the first place suggests he was lacking in either motivation or fitness – why should that be different now?

Then there’s the question of planning for the future. Schumacher is a short-term solution at best; but Ferrari also has two young reserve drivers, who are presumably itching for the drive. This would have been the perfect opportunity to blood one of them in a relatively pressure-free environment. If they’d risen to the challenge, Ferrari could have had a future star on their hands.

What kind of business would temporarily re-hire an ex-CEO if the present incumbent was on sick leave, as opposed to promoting from within? Can you imagine GE bringing back Jack Welch to run the show if Jeff Immelt had to take a few months off, for instance? We can’t help feeling this decision was driven more by sentiment or marketing than common sense. Although given his track record of ruthlessly taking out his rivals, Schumacher would probably be right at home in the cut-throat boardroom world...


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