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Schumacher turns down offer to race for Lotus

Michael Schumacher has turned down an offer to race for Lotus (Image: Mercedes)

Michael Schumacher has turned down an offer to race for Lotus (Image: Mercedes)

Retired seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher has rejected an offer to race for Lotus in the final two races of the 2013 season. Schumacher retired from Formula One for the second time at the end of 2012 after making a three-year comeback to the sport with Mercedes.

Lotus are in need of a competitive driver to fill in for Kimi Raikkonen, who is unavailable for the US and Brazilian Grands Prix due to the need for surgery on his back. So far, Lotus have approached quite a few drivers, if the rumours are true, and Schumacher is among them.

Sky Sports F1 quoted Schumacher’s spokesperson Sabine Kehm as saying,

“Michael’s performance against Nico (Rosberg) and Nico’s performance against Lewis (Hamilton) made a lot of people aware of how good Michael still was,” she said.

“Plus, he is still very fit. But he just feels so good in his new life.”

A second, albeit brief, comeback by Schumacher to Formula One would have created quite a stir in the sport, particularly as it would have taken place in the United States and Brazil, two countries where he enjoyed an enormous amount of success during his time with Benetton and Ferrari.

Nico Hulkenberg, who currently drives for Sauber, also turned down an invitation from Lotus to take over Raikkonen’s car for the remainder of the season. It seems that Lotus are not interested in giving their official reserve driver, Davide Valsecchi, a chance, as he has no experience racing in Formula One and Lotus are in need of strong results as they chase after second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

Based on the rumours currently doing the rounds, the most likely driver to take over Raikkonen’s car is Heikki Kovalainen. Although he has not raced in F1 this season, Kovalainen has taken part in six Friday practice sessions for Caterham, for whom he raced from 2010 to 2012. Before that, Kovalainen spent two seasons at McLaren, with whom he won the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix.

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.

Maldonado’s unfortunate penalty

Pastor Maldonado has been handed a ten-place grid penalty for today’s Brazilian Grand Prix after receiving his third reprimand of the season from the stewards. The reprimand was issued after Maldonado missed a call to the weigh bridge as he entered the pits during yesterday’s qualifying session.

The weigh bridge is there to ensure legality of the cars during the competitive sessions. An underweight car would be a huge advantage, particularly in qualifying where the cars are already running as light as possible. The officials conduct random checks on cars during Q1 and Q2, and all cars taking part in Q3 are weighed after the end of the session. The procedure for calling a driver to the weigh bridge during a session involves a red light at the pit lane entrance and an official indicating which way the car should go. If the driver does not see the light or official – bear in mind that the driver is approaching the pitlane at considerable speed, not always in a straight line, and sometimes (as in Brazil) while cresting a hill – he will receive a reprimand. Three reprimands during the season earn the driver a ten-place grid penalty.

The problem with calling a driver to the weigh bridge during qualifying is that it costs time, which puts that driver at a disadvantage compared to his competitors. In the case of Maldonado, he was 13th in the session with only seven minutes remaining in Q2. He would have been acutely aware of the need to get back to his pit garage, put some new tyres on, let the team make any changes or add fuel if necessary, and get on with the business of delivering a quick lap. A delay at the weigh bridge would have cost him valuable time, particularly if the team needed to make any minor changes to the car.

While the weigh bridge serves an important purpose, the way it is currently used results in random drivers being disadvantaged in the name of scrutineering. There is also an obvious communication problem, which clearly needs to be resolved. A simple call to the team to inform their driver over the radio that he must report to the weigh bridge seems quite logical and could completely avoid the need for petty penalties.

Nonetheless, the rules are clear, even if the mode of communication is not. Maldonado missed the weigh bridge, earning him a third reprimand, and resulting therefore in a ten-place grid-penalty. He will now start the race 16th, after qualifying an impressive sixth.

End of the road for Schumacher

Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix marks the end of the 2012 Formula One season, and with it the end of the most remarkable career in the history of the sport. Michael Schumacher is retiring, this time for good.

Schumacher’s stats leading up to his final race are:

Grands Prix: 307
World Championships: 7 (1994-1995, 2000-2004)
Wins: 91
Podiums: 155
Pole Positions: 68
Fastest Laps: 77
Career Points: 1560

Aside from the number of races entered (Rubens Barrichello holds the record with 326), all of those stats are records and most are likely to stand for the foreseeable future. In particular, Schumacher’s dominance with Ferrari, where he won five consecutive titles, will likely never be matched.

Schumacher retired from Formula One at the end of 2006, only to make a comeback in 2010 with Mercedes at the age of 41. The combination of Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Mercedes seemed, on paper, to be unbeatable. But it was not to be. A single podium finish – in Valencia this season – and the fastest qualifying time in Monaco are the high points of Schumacher’s three years with the Silver Arrows. And the pole position did not even count, as Schumacher had a penalty that demoted him to sixth on the grid.

Schumacher’s comeback can only be described as a failure, in that he has not achieved anything remotely like the success of his previous stint in Formula One. But it has certainly not been a waste of time. Seeing the biggest name in the sport come back and go wheel-to-wheel with drivers half his age has been enormously positive for Formula One. It has also shown a more relaxed and accessible Michael Schumacher to the world, a welcome contrast to the ultra-professional and sometimes cold Michael Schumacher of his first career.

Unfortunately, the sport’s most successful driver is unlikely to add to his success on Sunday. The current Mercedes car is far off the pace, so much so that the team has not featured in the points for the last five races. It would be a fitting end to a glittering career if Schumacher could stand on the podium on Sunday, but that seems impossible given the performance of the car. The only glimmer of hope for a strong result is the predicted wet weather, which could negate some of the weaknesses of the car.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it will mark the end of an era. By any reckoning, Schumacher is the greatest driver in the history of the sport. He will leave a gap on the grid that cannot possibly be filled, and his absence will certainly be felt in years to come.

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