In what came as a predictable announcement on Thursday, Michael Schumacher, F1′s most decorated and successful driver ever, confirmed that he will be retiring from F1 at the end of the 2012 season.
“Although I am still able to compete with the best drivers, at some point it is good to say goodbye. This is something that makes me proud, and this is part of why I never regretted my comeback. During the past month, I was not sure if I still had the motivation and energy which is necessary to go on. It is not my style to do something that I’m not 100% for. With today’s decision, I feel released from those doubts. In the end, my ambition to fight for victories and the pleasure of driving is nourished by competitiveness.”
It seemed inevitable given his unsuccessful last three years with Mercedes AMG-Petronas F1 team in which he was able to score just one podium (Valencia 2012) and had numerous crashes and failures. The news had been circulating for months that Schumacher was ‘undecided’ over his future and that gave us Schumi fans hope that he might get at least an year’s extension at Mercedes (or even replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari who is in a dismal slump in a car that leads the Driver’s World Chamionship with Alonso). It became clear soon enough though that that was not going to be the case – with Lewis Hamilton signing a Mercedes contract for next year, Schumacher was left without a confirmed drive for the 2013 season. He respectably decided to bow out of the sport during a time when ‘he was still able to compete with the top drivers on the grid’, rather than harming his respectability by looking for a lower-ranked team.
His decision to retire has been met with respect, applause and a hint of disappointment from the F1 community.
“I think he’s the greatest racing driver of this century. Michael brought a lot to the team in this second period that people don’t see. We haven’t achieved what we wanted to together and that’s frustrating but what we do achieve in the future, Michael will have made a contribution to it.”
Ross Brawn, Mercedes Team Principal
“He has contributed so much to the sport, achieved an incredible amount and it is surreal to think I was waking up each second Sunday, watching him in races and then to have have had the chance to race with the legend and see him come and go.”
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes Team Driver (replaces Michael in Mercedes GP next year)
“I am very, very lucky that I had him as a team-mate for three years. I have huge respect for his achievements. He was out of Formula One for three years, that is so hard to come back again and reach the level he is at now.”
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes Team-Mate
“He gave it everything. He never complained, and he was a constructive guy, I learned from this ‘new’ Michael in his second career even more than in the first, because he was successful and we were friends and we are friends.”
Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Boss
For a generation of adults and kids alike (including myself), Schumacher was the ultimate superstar of F1 and many grew up watching him burn up the roads in his hallmark 2000-2004 seasons in which he won five straight Driver’s World Championships with Ferrari. That period marked one of the most dominant runs in any sport, especially the 2003 season, in which he was on the podium for every one of the 19 races that year.
The experts of our society today who have watched F1 from way back in the 50′s compare Schumacher to the Sennas, the Prosts and the Stewarts and say that he doesn’t qualify as the greatest driver of all time. However, statistics do not lie and if 91 race wins from 302 races with 68 pole positions isn’t the work of an absolute genius, I don’t know what is. What is even more impressive about his statistics is that the next person on the list is Alain Prost with 51 wins – a gap of a mammoth 40 race wins. The drivers of today are faced in an environment more competitive than ever; this season, the first seven races were won by seven different individuals! It would be nearly impossible for anyone to pass him in race wins. It must be acknowledged however that in Schumacher’s heyday, he had by far the best car and engine on the grid, and was clearly the No.1 driver in his team which worked to his favour when he dominated F1.
While his on-track antics are well publicised (from when he consciously crashed into Damon Hill’s car in the 1994 season so that both of them would not finish and he would win the championship by a point; to him storming up to McLaren’s pit garage and accusing David Coulthard of trying to kill him after their crash at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in the 1998 season), one of the lesser-known facts about Michael is his off-track involvement in improvement of aerodynamics, stability and engine of the car. It is said that no driver ever gave more to motorsport than Michael did in his time at Ferrari, where he worked tirelessly to improve and test the car.
He has an amazing racing brain, and many in F1 believe he could take up a role in a managerial capacity at one of the top teams. His ability to analyse race data, plan tyre and pit-stop strategy have been lauded by many prominent members of the F1 community (including his current head at Mercedes AMG, Ross Brawn), and many do believe this will be the road ahead for the man who eats and breathes motorsport. I do sincerely hope that happens, as it will be awesome to see Schumi up on the pit wall discussing strategy. This thought was echoed by Sebastian Vettel, Schumi’s fellow countryman and friend.
“I hope he stays around in some other function so at least we get to see him from time to time. He is the biggest name there is in Formula One.”
I was heartbroken when he first announced his retirement after the 2006 season, when he had won the last of his seven driver’s world championships. I stopped following F1 for the three years when Schumi wasn’t on the grid. However, when he decided to race for Mercedes GP in the 2010 season, I was over the moon in excitement and started avidly following F1 again. Now that he has announced his second (and final, one hopes) retirement, I don’t know whether I’ll follow F1 as passionately.
From the neutral perspective, all the races this year have been unpredictable nail-biters and a great spectacle to behold. F1 racing as an entertainment event is at its pinnacle, but the world is surely going to miss its hero, the champion himself – Michael Schumacher. Even if he does not win in one of the remainder of the six races this year, he will always be P1 when the chequered flag is waved on his illustrious career in F1, the pinnacle of motorsport.