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.
A firework of overtakings
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.”
Team spirit in the final
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.