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Schumacher retirement marks end of an era

Last updated on: October 23, 2006 13:17 IST
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher raced into history on Sunday, bringing down the final chequered flag on the most successful and controversial Formula One career of all time.

It is easy to declare the end of an era, just as it is to acclaim a flawed genius. Where Schumacher is concerned, there can be no doubt about either.

His time has passed, and the world may never see the like again. His status in the pantheon of greats will be argued over for years to come.

As the seven-times champion reached the end of the road with a fourth place in the Brazilian sunshine, saluting the fans and saying farewell with 91 wins and records that may never be beaten, there was a sense of closure.

"Michael you are the champion, today and forever," declared one banner at Interlagos, a decaying circuit more in keeping with Formula One's past than present yet with more raw passion in the ramshackle stands than at any of the sterile new motor racing palaces.

"Thanks for all the emotions."

There have been plenty of them, good and bad, since the little-known German made his sensational debut for Jordan at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix.

Ayrton Senna was universally loved, despite the Brazilian's sometimes questionable tactics on the track, and mourned after his death in 1994. Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio was admired, Briton Jim Clark revered.

The global scorn and outrage that followed Austria 2002, when the German took an undeserved win after Ferrari ordered team mate Rubens Barrichello to move over, will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Nor will his hollow victory at the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix when all seven teams using Michelin tyres pulled out on safety grounds, leaving just six Bridgestone equipped cars, including Schumacher's Ferrari, in the race.

"Michael didn't really fight to support the rest of the drivers to make sure we could put on a good show for Formula One because it was an opportunity for him to win a Grand Prix," Red Bull's David Coulthard told the BBC on Sunday.

This year's Monaco Grand Prix, where angry drivers branded him a cheat after what appeared to be a blatant attempt to block rivals in qualifying by stopping his car at the penultimate corner in the dying seconds, was another example of the German's penchant for controversy.

Schumacher did not become one of the world's highest paid athletes without a single-minded dedication and ruthless determination to succeed. Supremely fit, he also had a mental toughness second to none.

He was also aided by the best car, and a subservient team mate throughout his Ferrari years.

But he showed also that the man in the cockpit can still make all the difference in an era of high-tech gizmos and driver aids.

He demonstrated that loyalty breeds loyalty, turning Ferrari into a second family and putting in long days at the factory, and they loved him for it.

INSPIRATIONAL FIGURE

"He's been an inspirational figure I'd say," asserted technical director Ross Brawn.

"I've seen drivers come and go and most of them are looking after Number One. And I think Michael is unusual in that he is just as concerned about the team and how it works and the well-being of the team as anyone.

"That's been one of his strengths over the years."

He has been able to separate his work from his private life, sheltering his family from the media's prying eyes and keeping his innermost thoughts to himself. Very few people know the 'real' Michael Schumacher.

"I think both sides are part of the real Michael," says one of those who does, spokeswoman and close confidante Sabine Kehm.

"At the racetrack he is extremely focused, extremely concentrated and totally geared to his goal. Totally in a fighting mood."

To Kehm, he is a man who has coped with phenomenal pressure, unimaginable to most rivals who have never been in such a position, and now completely at ease with himself.

"He's a very silent guy in a way," says Kehm. "He doesn't talk loudly, he loves playing backgammon and being together with people and friends."

He will have plenty more time for that from now on.

Alan Baldwin
Source:
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