Schumacher signs off with strong seventh

Today’s Brazilian Grand Prix was the last race of Michael Schumacher’s long and astonishingly successful career. The legendary German has retired from Formula One racing. Schumacher finished seventh from 13th on the grid, showing in his last race that he still has plenty of speed, even in a struggling car.

A reasonable start and plenty of on-track action saw Schumacher make up two places in the first few laps of the race. A puncture required an early pit stop that pushed him right to the back of the field. Unfortunately, it was just a few laps before the track was wet enough for a change to intermediate tyres, and so Schumacher had to pit again when slick tyres were no longer quick enough.

At that point, Schumacher was lapped by the leading McLarens and Nico Hulkenberg and the afternoon was looking fairly bleak. Fortune intervened when the safety car emerged to allow the marshals to clear some debris from the track. Schumacher was one of a number of drivers who were allowed to unlap themselves under safety car conditions, and that put him back in contention for points.

Schumacher’s Mercedes team had opted for a wet setup, which hampered dry qualifying performance, but meant Schumacher had some speed available when the rain intensified. He found himself up in sixth place after making some passes and benefiting from drivers ahead spinning. But when his friend and compatriot Sebastian Vettel came up behind him, Schumacher offered no resistance, preferring to assist Vettel in his bid for the title. As it happened, Vettel would have won the title even if he had finished behind Schumacher, but the gesture was a warm one nonetheless.

Schumacher’s seventh place promoted him to 13th in the Drivers’ Championship. It’s the lowest he has finished in a full season in his career, but there are few who would disagree that he has been better than that this season. The first half of the year, when the Mercedes W03 was competitive, was marred by a string of car failures and team errors that no doubt cost Schumacher a significant number of points. He showed his speed with the fastest time in Monaco qualifying and picked up a well-deserved podium in Valencia, before the car gradually fell off the pace and into the midfield. Finishing seventh after an early puncture in changing weather conditions in today’s Brazilian Grand Prix shows just how much of a racer Schumacher still is and rounds of his season and career appropriately.

Schumacher’s career is a series of sevens. Seventh in qualifying for his first race, seven titles, car number seven in his last two seasons and a seventh place finish to round it all off. He would have preferred a win today, of course, but the string of sevens does seem strangely appropriate nonetheless, even if the number itself means nothing.

Schumacher leaves an enormous gap in Formula One, one that can never be filled. He is certainly the most successful and arguably the greatest Formula One driver in history. Although Lewis Hamilton takes over his seat at Mercedes, his presence and stature in Formula One will not be so easily replaced. But perhaps it is time for a quiet retirement. He has earned it, after all.

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