Ferrari F1 kingpins Michael Schumacher, team boss Jean Todt, technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne have signed contracts to remain with the Italian juggernaut until the end of 2006.

Ferrari F1 kingpins Michael Schumacher, team boss Jean Todt, technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne have signed contracts to remain with the Italian juggernaut until the end of 2006.

The five-time world drivers champion had been widely tipped to retire from driving at the expiry of his current contract, but the new deal ensures him at least two further years in F1.

The Scuderia also announced that it had extended the contracts of the key members of its management and technical staff. Todt, Brawn, South African Byrne, engine director Paolo Martinelli and head of engine design Gilles Simon will all stay with the team to the end of 2006.

"I love this sport and I feel extremely comfortable at Ferrari," Schumacher said on Monday. "It was therefore almost something to be taken for granted that I would extend my contract to the end of the 2006 season. The fact that Jean Todt and other key personnel in the team have also confirmed their plans to stay with Ferrari for the same period of time made this decision even easier to take.

Frenchman Todt has been at the helm of Ferrari throughout its run of success that includes the past four constructors' titles and three drivers’ championship titles.

“In a few days time, I will reach the tenth anniversary of my joining Ferrari. I have always said that I would end my work in this field here at Maranello,” Todt was quoted as saying. “I still have a great passion for my work and my motivation is the same as ever”.

Meanwhile, BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen welcomed the news that key members of the Ferrari team had extended their contracts.

"It's good for F1 that Michael Schumacher and the entire Ferrari team are going to stay in the sport,” Theissen said on the BMW website. “For us, this is an incentive, because Ferrari sets the standards in F1."

Theissen’s colleague at BMW, Gerhard Berger, reiterated that beating the Italian team remained the German manufacturer’s biggest challenge.

"There, everybody is doing everything to be successful,” he said of the world champions. “To outstrip Ferrari still remains a great challenge."

But what will happen to Rubens Barrichello at the end of the 2004 season? Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo said the absence of Barrichello’s name from the announcement was because “there had not been widespread speculation regarding his retirement”.

“The mood here is calm over the renewal of contracts, even if, as is easily understandable, there is no lack of “siren” calls from the market, in an area where everyone wants to win and there are few excellent specialists,” the President said.

“As for Barrichello, there has never been speculation about his retirement. It will eventually come down to a choice of how we tackle 2005, but at the moment we have barely reached the mid-point of the 2003 season”.

Original article from Car