Thank you and goodbye, Michael Schumacher

By on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pole position in Monaco...

57 races, 1 pole position, 1 podium and 191 points. But the comeback is not a failure.

In the black and white world of Formula One, drivers are usually given little leeway when it comes to rating their season. World champion? Congratulations, you’ve earned it. Beaten by your team mate? You’re not good enough, so go away and come back next year (if you’re lucky).

In a sport where success and glory are the sole objectives, it’s all too easy to either place a driver into two categories – success and failure. But with Michael Schumacher’s comeback, he doesn’t fall into either of these divisions. The comeback has not been a success, the pure statistics point that out clear as day. But has it been a failure? No. It has not.

There’s no doubt that the sport has changed hugely since Schumacher’s first retirement in 2006 and even then there were suggestions that his speed was waning at the age of 37. Talk of wins and championships have ultimately been proved wide of the mark, but a lot of that has been down to Mercedes underperforming and this only highlighted Schumacher’s flaws.

In three seasons, Schumacher has taken one podium to Rosberg’s five, but they should ultimately be more finely matched when you consider the misfortune to strike the elder German in 2012. Failures in Australia, China, Monaco and Canada cost him significant points, as well as being hit by Grosjean in Malaysia. Surely even the most staunch anti-Schumacher F1 supporter felt a tinge of nostalgia when Schumacher mounted the podium in Valencia, and did so against Alonso and Raikkonen – the man who succeeded him as world champion and the other who succeeded him at Ferrari.

So how can you call a driver a failure when he turned up in Monaco and took pole position at the age of 43? The fact that he was demoted down to sixth as a result of a previous indiscretion summed up his comeback in a nutshell: a reminder of the old pace, blighted by silly, avoidable errors. Hitting Vergne in Singapore, Senna in Spain, Perez in Singapore last year. All rather hap-hazard. And of course, the controversial move to almost put Rubens Barrichello in the wall in Hungary in 2010.

But the fact is that Schumacher could have been in contention for victory at Monaco. After all, he beat Nico Rosberg in qualifying and the younger German finished just six tenths of a second behind race winner Mark Webber. On that day, Schumacher gave a glimpse of the past. He still had it.

Racing with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, his replacement

One swallow does not make a summer, and there have been some truly abject showings. But comparing Schumacher 2.0 with Schumacher 1.0 is ultimately pointless. They are two different racing drivers, racing in two distinctly different eras. The very fact that Schumacher has been able to race wheel to wheel – and sometimes prevail – against those fifteen years his junior, supposedly at the peak of their powers, is undeniably impressive.

Schumacher’s comeback has also given fans a greater appreciation of his status. He is, after all, a seven times world champion. He won his first title in 1994 – when some of the current grid was probably still mastering the art of walking. Back through the dominant era there was understandably a lot of negativity about Schumacher – he was ruining the sport, according to some, and doing so in an occasionally unscrupulous manner.

On a personal note, I was able to see Schumacher race twice, as well as sitting in the same room as him and standing a few metres away from the seven times champion. Something seemingly minor to many, but to me it was amazing to think this is the man who is, statistically speaking, the greatest in history. The lean figure standing in front of me is the person who won 91 races, won some races he had no right to win and cut the sport in half with his ruthless nature.

The comeback has allowed us to see Schumacher in a different light and the driver himself seems more comfortable with his own status. It was as if leaving in 2006 was a premature move and the three years with Mercedes has permitted Schumacher a greater clarity of mind.

"In the past six years, I have learned a lot about myself. 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 this in the earlier years, though you appreciate what you are able to do and that you are able to live your convictions and I was able to do so".

So thank you Michael. You weren’t a success, but you weren’t a failure either.

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