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F1 will be strange without Schumi
Alan Baldwin | October 26, 2006 15:24 IST
Michael Schumacher had a presence that marked him out from other drivers as surely as his unrivalled Formula One success.
The past tense must be used now because last weekend in Brazil was the Ferrari great's farewell.
Those who have followed his extraordinary career from close up, and I have attended most of his 91 victories, will find it strange without him. Several of my German colleagues may not even come back.
It was an end of an era on Sunday. 'O Duelo Final' screamed the Sao Paulo billboards, Schumacher against Renault's young world champion Fernando Alonso.
Almost everyone with a pass to be on the starting grid was there. Access to the track was difficult and crowded but there would not be another chance like this.
I've had a few unforgettable 'I was there' moments in my career, watching France win the 1998 World Cup in Paris for example, and this was another.
I reached the Ferrari as Schumacher clambered out and removed his helmet, chatting to his engineer.
Manager Willi Weber stood alongside while fellow German Boris Becker and Schumacher's old foe Mika Hakkinen were also circulating.
I thought of all the times I had watched such a scene, almost as much a part of the weekend routine as watching the German spraying champagne on the podium.
Schumacher had to win to take a record eighth championship, and hope Alonso failed to score. It was always an unlikely outcome.
Handicapped by qualifying problems, Schumacher started 10th and was up to fifth before a puncture sent him back to last place.
From then on it was the old magic, the German carving through the field and pulling off one final, great overtaking manoeuvre on McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, the man who replaces him at Ferrari next year, for fourth place.
Then it was over.
Few of us, particularly among the non-German media, ever got to see beyond Schumacher's professional facade.
Even on a regular race weekend, every minute was accounted for and the media were not a priority.
He had a knack of striding from motorhome to garage with a look that said 'leave me alone'.
At Interlagos, Schumacher was strangely absent despite being in the spotlight like never before. He appeared at one news conference for a Ferrari sponsor on Thursday and that was it.
With two championships up for grabs, there were to be no distractions and he wanted to present Ferrari with another constructors' title as a farewell gift.
Other sports might have called a special news conference to salute such an iconic figure, Andre Agassi's tearful U.S. Open farewell springs to mind, but Formula One is perhaps less sentimental.
Schumacher talked to the cameras of RTL and Premiere but there was no big farewell.
Italian reporters, used to huddling around his spokeswoman Sabine Kehm after races to hear his comments relayed through her in English translation, were joined by the rest in a scramble for quotes.
Schumacher shimmied out of the garage and into the toilets opposite. The photographers waited for him to reappear.
I spoke to triple champion Niki Lauda who had talked to Schumacher after the race.
Lauda grinned when I asked what he thought Schumacher would do next: "Everybody wants to know. He says 'Leave me alone, I'm still at the racetrack. It will take me two or three months to settle down and then I will decide.'
"All these sentimental things you are trying to interpret, they are not there. Speak to him in six months, then he will be different."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage