About this season
With just half an hour left before his last race, he rolls slowly onto the starting grid, memories of the botched qualifying session still fresh in his mind and of the second technical fault in two consecutive race weekends. Yet in Michael’s 248 F1, there beats a new heart: the fuel pump has been replaced plus he has a new temperature gauge. Then, ten minutes before the start, Michael is handed his final trophy for achievements in Formula One by no less than Pelé. The seconds are ticking away. The last 71 laps in the career of Michael Schumacher are about to start.
And what a start! For his swansong he does what he does best and what he loves to do: demonstrating his exceptional talent to an admiring world of F1 fans. Michael lays on a firecracker display of overtaking. He goes past one opponent after another and even a damaged tyre that puts him back in last place proves to be only a temporary setback. His final victim is destined to become his successor. Three laps before the chequered flag, three laps before the end of his career, Michael squeezes past Kimi Räikkönen’s McLaren on the inside of Senna S. It’s the last overtaking manoeuvre of his 16 years in Formula One, a fitting end to a glittering career. Even the failure to take his eighth world title cannot detract from that.
“We were driving an amazing car today,” says Michael jubilantly. “On pure speed alone, we could probably have lapped everyone out there. To a certain extent, we did precisely that.” So despite having to settle for fourth on his last outing, he still enjoys himself immensely: “These wheel-to-wheel duels are the highlight of Formula One, especially when you can see the track opening up ahead, you’re driving a good car, you’ve sussed your opponent and you’re ready to make your move. Generally, you just want the race to be over, but today I would have liked it to go on a bit longer.”
His dream of securing an eighth world title has already been shattered two weeks before when he sustains engine damage in Suzuka. Michael has been in Formula One since 1991. Since he started out, he has never thrown in the towel – not even in hopeless situations. He has always had self-belief and has occasionally tried to force a situation to a successful outcome. When the seven-times world champion returns to his garage a quarter of an hour after dropping out of the penultimate race – indeed the penultimate race of his career – the scene is set for some unexpected events: Michael thanks his mechanics, gathers his crew around him and goes up to the control centre to shake hands with his engineers and team bosses there.
Then he steps in front of the TV cameras and utters the otherwise inconceivable words: “This year, it just wasn’t to be.” So it was that, in an uncharacteristic yet realistic manner, he conceded the title. “There’s still a spark of hope but I’m not counting on it.” He denies that the 50th retirement of his career has been the bitterest. “No. Quite definitely not,” says Michael emphatically. “We managed to revive a title chase that had already seemed done and dusted. We can take some pride in that. In fact, we can be proud of everything we have achieved.” Moments like this are part and parcel of motorsport, of Formula One and especially of a monumental career.
His final season begins with three difficult races: runner-up in Bahrain, sixth in Malaysia and an accident in Australia. However, the F1 community have no idea at this stage of the announcement that Michael will make following his victory in the Italian GP. At the post-race press conference after his sixth win of the season, he declares to the dismay of the thousands of passionate tifosi: “This was my last race at Monza. I have told the team of my decision to retire at the end of this year.” He justifies this on the basis that you need tremendous strength, energy and motivation to keep racing at the top. “Of course I’m still physically fit and of course I’m still competitive now, but what about the next few years? I have never had the ambition to be an also-ran. That’s not my style.”
His style is winning victories, of which he celebrates seven in his final year. And just like the whole of Michael’s racing career, the 2006 season is characterised by ups and downs, surprises and upsets. There are victories, new records and a temporary ascendancy, but there are also retirements, penalties and even criticisms. Mostly after the qualifying incident in Monaco, not so much after ignoring a red flag in Budapest. All that’s missing is the fairytale ending. On the last two F1 weekends, Michael experiences more disappointments, bad luck and breakdowns than in virtually his whole career to date. The engine damage in Monza robs this perfectionist of any realistic title chance. A faulty fuel pump and a damaged tyre remove any lingering hope of a red miracle in Interlagos.
Even his intended parting gift to the team fails to materialise: “I would have liked to help the boys secure the constructors’ title as my parting shot. They certainly deserved it. But even without it, everyone knows they are the best. As far as I’m concerned, they are the real world champions.”
At precisely 7.02pm on 22nd October 2006 in Sao Paulo, Michael walks out of the paddock, his second home for the last 16 years. From this moment on, he is not only the former champion but also an ex-racing driver.
Courtesy by motorsport-magazin.com
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