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Schumacher has sense of relief as he reaches end of the F1 road again

Friday, 5 October 2012 - 8:18pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Comeback with Mercedes has not met expectations and seven-time champion will retire at end of season.

It could hardly have been more different to his first retirement. At Monza in 2006, Michael Schumacher had announced his intention to go in the wake of the 90th victory of his career, having just cut the gap to Renault's championship leader Fernando Alonso to two points and in the full expectation of going on to win an eighth world title. His valedictory speech reduced the sea of tifosi on the finish straight to awed silence.

Yesterday (Thursday), in a press conference in a makeshift paddock home in Suzuka, Schumacher announced his intention to bid farewell for a second time to a sport he once owned. He admitted that his three-year comeback with Mercedes had not lived up to expectations but said that he no longer had the "motivation and energy" to go on.

"It is not my style to do anything which I am not 100 per cent convinced about," Schumacher said. "With today's decision I feel released from those doubts. In the end, it is not my ambition to just drive around but to fight for victories; and the pleasure of driving is nourished by competitiveness."

It was in many ways a sad end to the career of Formula One's most successful and controversial winner. Schumacher insisted that he had "options" to continue but the truth is that with Lewis Hamilton having arrived at Mercedes the seven-time champion was left with the option to quit or drive with a midfield team such as Williams or Sauber. By common consensus he chose the right option.

Three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart said the decision was long overdue and questioned once again the wisdom of Schumacher's comeback. "The speculation within the whole F1 community has been that Michael should be retiring - and hopefully not for a short period this time," he said. "In a way I am sorry Michael came back. Recently he's had too many incidents."

Stewart added that he had been alarmed by two incidents this year - the collision with Williams' Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix in May and the one with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore a fortnight ago.

"These two incidents, running up behind other drivers and hitting them at great speed, you might have expected from an inexperienced driver in their first year, but not from one of the great drivers," he said.

The use of the word "great" to describe Schumacher has always been contentious. With 91 grand prix victories and seven world titles to his name there is no question Schumacher is the most successful driver of all time. But controversial incidents during his career - notably the cynical collision with Damon Hill in Adelaide in 1994, which resulted in his first championship; the failed attempt to bury Jacques Villeneuve in similar circumstances three years later in Jerez; the 'parking' of his Ferrari at Rascasse during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006; and most recently his squeezing of Rubens Barrichello into the wall at the Hungaroring in 2010 - meant the listing of his achievements always came with a caveat.

What was never in doubt was Schumacher's speed behind the wheel. His second career, after three years out of the sport, threw even that into doubt.

Without the advantages he enjoyed at Ferrari, without the alleged technical chicanery that went on at Benetton, some believe Schumacher was shown up.

There can surely be little doubt, though, that Schumacher was, and remains, an extraordinary driver. And as long as he had the motivation to continue he was a huge asset to the sport. This season, his third since his return, was probably his most competitive.

The 43 year-old has been desperately unlucky on more than one occasion while anyone who can put their car on pole at Monaco still has pace and skill to burn.

The fact is that the standard of the competition improved during his absence. And Schumacher is no longer the force of old. Having taken pole at Monaco he had to drop five places in the race as a penalty for his collision with Senna in Barcelona. It almost summed up his second spell in Formula One.

While his struggles may have affected the fans' perception of him, Schumacher showed a new, more relaxed side to himself as a man which may mean he will be missed more this time around. "In the past six years I have learned a lot about myself," he said yesterday.

"For example, that you can open yourself without losing focus. That losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning. Sometimes I lost sight of this in the early years." Of his controversial moments, he added: "We are all humans and we all make mistakes. And with hindsight you would probably do it differently if you had a second opportunity, but that's life."

Schumacher said he had not yet made a decision on what he would do after the season finished. It is thought he may race in DTM [German Touring Cars]. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said recently he would like the German to stay involved in the team, although his new acquisition Hamilton said he did not think that he would.

Asked if he would miss Schumacher, Hamilton spoke with more authority: "The sport will always miss a legend like him."
 


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