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.
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)
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.
It seems that just about any discussion regarding Michael Schumacher’s career inevitably turns to the final race of 1994, where Schumacher won the title after a collision with Damon Hill took both drivers out of the race.
On lap 36, Schumacher ran wide on the exit of turn five and brushed the wall on the outside of the corner, which caused him to be slow on the approach to turn six. Damon Hill rounded turn five on the racing line, saw Schumacher rejoining the track at low speed and attempted to pass him into turn six. However, Schumacher turned in and the left front tyre of Hill’s Williams made contact with the side of Schumacher’s car, lifting the right hand side of Schumacher’s car into the air. Schumacher’s car hit the tyre barrier on the exit of turn six, eliminating him from the race on the spot. Hill attempted to continue, but the accident had caused damage to the front suspension of his Williams, and there was insufficient time to repair the car during the race.
In the aftermath of the incident Schumacher was widely criticised, particularly in the British press who felt that Schumacher had deliberately taken their hero, Hill, out of the race. Even now, 18 years later, the incident is still cited as an example of questionable behaviour by Schumacher, alongside incidents such as Jerez 1997 – where Schumacher turned in on Jacques Villeneuve in an unsuccessful attempt to take his rival out of the race – and Monaco 2006 – where Schumacher was found to have deliberately parked his car on the track in qualifying in order to cause yellow flags that would prevent his provisional pole position time from being beaten.
While Schumacher undoubtedly acted wrongly in the incident with Villeneuve in 1997 and the available evidence suggests that he was correctly punished in 2006, the 1994 incident is not nearly as incriminating as it is often made out to be. Schumacher was in front of Hill going into the corner. Hill’s attempt to pass was, at the point of entering the corner, obviously not going to succeed – he was driving into a closing gap. Schumacher was quite entitled to take the racing line, which he did. Hill did not back out of the passing attempt, and a collision was the result.
The behaviour of both drivers is completely understandable. Schumacher had a one point lead in the championship, which meant that the race was a straight fight for the title between the two drivers. He was leading and not about to give up his lead without a fight. Therefore he did not give way, and there is no reason that he should have. Hill knew that he had to pass Schumacher at some point to become World Champion. When he saw Schumacher rejoining the track slowly, he saw an opportunity and went for it. In hindsight, it’s easy to suggest that Hill should have waited for another chance to pass, particularly because Schumacher’s car may have been damaged in the previous corner when he hit the wall. But Hill could not have known at that point that Schumacher’s car was possibly damaged.
Hill had to go for the pass, and Schumacher had to cut him off. Any racing driver in either position would have done exactly the same thing. The stewards of the race examined the crash and declared it a racing incident, which is the only reasonable conclusion based on the evidence at hand.
Michael Schumacher has called time on his Formula One career as at the end of 2012, in an announcement today from Suzuka, where the seven-time World Champion will be competing in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The announcement on Schumacher’s website – full statement available here – reads:
“I have decided to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season, although I am still able to compete with the best drivers of the world. This is something that makes me proud, and this is part of why I never regretted my comback. I can be happy with my performance and the fact that I was continuously raising my game during the last three years. But then, at some point it is time to say good-bye.”
Schumacher went on to thank Daimler, Mercedes-Benz, his team, his friends, and most emphatically his family for standing by him and supporting him throughout his comeback years.
The announcement brings to a close the most remarkable chapter in the history of Formula One, and arguably in the history of professional sport. In a career spanning just over 21 years, Schumacher has won seven World Drivers’ Championships, 91 races and 68 pole positions, all of which are records that may never be beaten. He has raised the bar in terms of professionalism and the quest for perfection in an already technical sport.
Schumacher will be remembered in particular for returning Ferrari, the sport’s most illustrious team, to its place at the pinnacle of Formula One. After winning back-to-back titles with Benetton in 1994-95, Schumacher moved to Ferrari, who had not produced a driver’s champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979 and were struggling to remain competitive. Four years of development followed, after which the Schumacher-Ferrari partnership delivered a record five successive titles. Schumacher’s red helmet in a red Ferrari is an image that few F1 fans will easily forget.
Schumacher has been known throughout his career for his physical fitness and attention to detail. At 43 years old, he is still possibly the fittest driver on the grid, and his exercise regimen has certainly played a significant role in enabling him to compete at the highest level long after most drivers would have hung up their helmets. Success in Formula One is found in taking care of details, and Schumacher has always worked tirelessly in all areas of the car and his own driving to find any possible extra advantage. Those traits added to his own formidable driving talent have made him without doubt the world’s greatest ever racing driver.
At the end of 2006, when Schumacher retired for the first time, he had broken almost every available record and achieved far more than he could ever have wanted. But at the end of 2009, he announced that he would return to Formula One for three years in pursuit of another title. Such a comeback for a man in his 40s seems impossible, but Schumacher proved, against the odds, that he can still be competitive in a field that includes drivers half his age. He has steadily improved through the three years of his return to the point where, in a better car, he would almost certainly be winning races. Such a performance from a man with nothing to prove is indicative of his remarkable focus and dedication.
Although he has announced his retirement, Schumacher’s career is not over yet. There are still six races remaining in the season, and he will be pushing as hard as ever to win them. It has been six years since the illustrious German has tasted victory in Formula One, and although the title is now far out of reach, Schumacher would dearly love to bow out from the top step of the podium.