Williams and Schumacher at the end of the road

Ralf Schumacher marked his 29th birthday on Wednesday knowing that his career with the Williams team may be over. Doctors in Germany said that he sustained two cracked vertebrae when he crashed at the United States Grand Prix on June 20.

The doctors at the clinic in Bad Neuheim have forecast that Schumacher may be unable to race for between eight and 12 weeks.

‘To be honest I had imagined my birthday would be rather different,” said Schumacher. “Yesterday’s diagnosis was a real blow.”

His place in the team, alongside Juan Pablo Montoya in Sunday’s French Grand Prix, will be taken by the Williams test driver Marc Gene who deputised for Schumacher in last year’s Italian Grand Prix when the German was injured.

A 12-week lay-off would mean Schumacher might not be able to compete before the Japanese Grand Prix on October 10, with the season’s finale in Brazil a fortnight later.

Williams are looking for two new drivers next season, as Montoya is switching to McLaren and Schumacher is tipped for a move to Toyota.

Frank Williams refused to speculate as to who was likely to drive the car beyond Sunday’s race, although team sources hinted that it would be logical for the Spaniard Gene to continue in the seat, at least for the British Grand Prix seven days later. —

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