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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.

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Hamilton has nothing to lose in 2013

Lewis Hamilton is in a particularly enviable position in 2013: he has moved to a team in which he is not expected to win the World Championship, at least not this year. Therefore, there is almost zero external pressure to perform. If he wins the title, he’ll be hailed as a hero. If he doesn’t, then nobody will criticise him – he’s not expected to have the car to deliver a title this year anyway.

In many respects, Hamilton is in a similar position to that of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996. Schumacher had left a top team and gone to Italy to rescue the struggling Ferrari team. It was clear that Schumacher would not challenge for the title that year, and he didn’t, but he also put in some inspired and brilliant performances, particularly in Spain where he dominated a sodden Grand Prix and made the other drivers look like amateurs. Schumacher may not have won the title, but his stock certainly went up as he was recognised for his supreme skill in a difficult car.

Hamilton has similarly moved from a top team (McLaren) to one that was not a title challenger last season (Mercedes). In the last three seasons, the works Mercedes team has won just a single race and never looked like producing a title-winning car. Hamilton has arrived at the team as part of a shake-up intended to deliver championship glory to Mercedes. At the earliest, he and the team are expected to challenge at the front in 2014, when new engine regulations are likely to benefit teams like Mercedes that manufacture their own engines. So this season is dedicated to development, to making sure the pieces are in place for a title challenge next year.

But Hamilton, much like Schumacher back in 1996, is a racer. He is acknowledged as perhaps the quickest driver in Formula One today, and can always be counted on to give his all on the track in pursuit of results. Hamilton does not like coming second. So we can expect him to push with everything he has for victory in 2013.

If Hamilton and Mercedes to triumph against the odds in 2013, it will be a great story for Formula One: the return of one of the great names of motoring to the top of the racing ladder, along with the second title that seems inevitable in Hamilton’s career. On the other hand, if as expected Hamilton and Mercedes have a strong but ultimately unsuccessful season, it will all be accepted as part of the development plan.

Autosprint ranks Fangio first

Motorsport journalists periodically take on the near-impossible task of producing lists of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. Invariably Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna feature high up on the list, with the remaining spots varying depending on who is involved in ranking the drivers.

Italian magazine Autosprint has produced a list of the top ten Formula One drivers, which places Fangio first ahead of Schumacher. Interestingly, the only current driver in the list (Schumacher is no longer current, having retired at the end of 2012) is newly-crowned triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Autosprint list reads as follows:

1. Juan Manuel Fangio
2. Michael Schumacher
3. Sir Jackie Stewart
4. Ayrton Senna
5. Jim Clark
6. Alain Prost
7. Sir Stirling Moss
8. Alberto Ascari
9. Niki Lauda
10. Sebastian Vettel

Each of the drivers listed has, in some way, redefined the sport within his era. Of those on the list, the only driver not to have won the World Championship is Sir Stirling Moss, who raced alongside Fangio at Mercedes in 1955 and finished second in the World Championship for four consecutive seasons from 1955 to 1958.

Of the current crop of drivers, 2005 and 2006 Champion Fernando Alonso is perhaps the most likely to break into this list, although he would certainly need to win the World Championship with Ferrari to do so.

Grosjean wins Race of Champions

Romain Grosjean is the 2012 Champion of Champions, after triumphing against a host of enormous names in motorsport. Grosjean defeated eight-time Le Mans 24-Hour winner Tom Kristensen 2-0 in the final of the individual competition.

There is no easy path to victory at the Race of Champions – with the best of the best from all motorsport disciplines competing, every race is tough and each victory along the way hard-earned. But Grosjean had, if anything, the most difficult possible path to the final. In the group stages, he was up against seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher, current Indycar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and RoC Asia runner-up Kazuya Ohshima. Despite losing narrowly to Schumacher, Grosjean beat Hunter-Reay and Ohshima to proceed to the knock-out stages.

After the group stages, Grosjean’s path to victory became even more difficult. He was matched up against current triple Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the third quarter final, and was arguably not expected to proceed to the semi-finals. But an uncharacteristic error from Vettel – which shows just how hard he had to push against Grosjean – meant the German crashed out, and set-up a Grosjean-Schumacher semi-final. Grosjean avenged his earlier defeat to Schumacher by knocking the legendary German out of the competition.

The final was a best of three affair between Grosjean and Tom Kristensen. Kristensen had beaten last year’s winner Sebastian Ogier and former Formula One driver David Coulthard en route to the final, proving his speed in the process. But he was no match for Grosjean, who needed only two heats to seal his victory and become 2012 Champion of Champions.

After a mixed season in Formula One – with three podiums, a number of crashes and a race ban for causing a pile-up at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix – Grosjean was relieved to end the year with a victory. The young Frenchman said, “That’s what I’d call a crazy day! It got a bit tough in the group stages but I managed to make it through. Then I had to face Sebastian Vettel in the quarter-final before Michael Schumacher in the semi-final – the two Germans who beat us in yesterday’s RoC Nations Cup final. Then I had the final with Tom. We’ve had a good history at this event and I’ve raced him before so it was good to face him in the final. I got a bit of extra luck to be in the right car at the right time but it felt good.

“It’s been a tough end to the F1 season but I finally got back on the podium yesterday, and now this! It’s great to get this win before I head off for a holiday. Thanks to everyone in Thailand because the welcome has been fantastic.”

Grosjean has not yet been confirmed at Lotus for the 2013 Formula One season, but will be hoping for a favourable announcement from his team soon.

Schumacher retains close Ferrari connection

In his first career, Michael Schumacher developed a special relationship with Ferrari, the team he took to an astonishing five consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. On his website yesterday, Schumacher congratulated his friend Sebastian Vettel on winning an historic third title, and expressed his continued affection for Ferrari:

“Now that the dust has settled, I would like to again congratulate Sebastian on winning his third world championship. It was certainly a nerve-wracking race for him and he brought the season to a masterful end . I have known this guy so long and like him a lot; I am really pleased for him. For me, the right man won the drivers’ championship.

“On the other hand, of course, I felt very sorry for the Ferrari team, to whom I still have such a close connection. For this season, I would have much preferred to see the Constructors’ Champions wearing red…”

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.

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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