When the chequered flag came down at Interlagos in October 2006, it was finally time for the F1 fraternity to get used to the fact that Michael Schumacher would not be seen in a race car on the grid ever again.
It was a bitter to swallow, especially for the likes of me who worshipped him. That Fernando Alonso had won back to back titles by squarely beating the legend himself became insignificant in proportion compared to the moment.
On one side the world was in a state of mourning, if you like, and on the other, Bernie was searching for his next superstar. Bernie's state of panic was justifiable because no one in the history of Formula One could boast a glittering career like Schumacher's.
He owned the top step of the podium with an air of arrogance, flair and panache that stays unmatched. I have seen other winners stand up on that step, but none so deserving, so worthy of it. His success on the track can be attributed to a combination of determination and sheer prowess.
A quick break down of the numbers that make up his career so spectacular.
Race Starts: 249
Career Points: 1369
Fastest Laps: 76
World Championships: 7
Such a career like this is certainly worth more than mere numbers and statistics. However as you'd have noticed I've segregated his race wins and world championships from all other data. It is with a reason.
Out of his 91 wins, 19 were with Benetton and 72 with Ferrari. Of those, three wins were in the 1996 season, his first with the Italian team. The common factor in his 88 out of 91 wins came in the presence of Ross Brawn. Brawn did not join Ferrari till the end of the 1996 season. So doing some more mathematics, 88 out of 91 is a staggering 96.7%.
All of Schumacher's titles were also masterminded by Ross Brawn, two at Benetton, five at Ferrari. So, a return to Formula One action with Ross Brawn looks like a more logical and well thought out plan as opposed to returning for Ferrari. I'd like to call it a typical Schumacher move, cool, composed and well calculated. Two German drivers, a quintessentially German team and Ross Brawn look like the team to beat.
For Mercedes Benz it will in a way be the return of the prodigal son. Schumacher, in his early days was part of the Mercedes young drivers program and was still a contracted Mercedes driver when he made his Formula One debut for Jordan in 1991.
The reunion of these racing greats coincides with the new points system, which is a result an increased number of teams on the track. It is true that Schumacher's last competitive outing in an F1 car was over three years back but his drive, motivation and thirst for success still remain the same.
Since his retirement the grid has seen three different World Champions from different teams. Raikkonen in 2007 for Ferrari, Hamilton in 2008 for Mclaren and last year for Brawn GP, it was Jenson Button. With the new breed of drivers and World Champions ruling the roost, it will be interesting to see how Schumacher fits in as the "uncle". Of all the drivers in his era, only Rubens Barrichello still remains on the grid. Even David Coulthard is now a track-side reporter for BBC.
Breaking up the factors into pros and cons from Schumacher's perspective, I came up with a list that looks roughly like this:
1. His name and whatever comes with it.
2. His record and reputation.
3. His hunger, drive and motivation (a repeat of what I said earlier)
4. Pairing with Ross Brawn.
5. A virtual guarantee that the team will be built around him.
6. The element of surprise and the fact that "enigma" factor.
1. Return to racing after a three year hiatus whilst his competitors have been racing in that time.
2. Younger, fitter breed of drivers. (Schumacher born 1969: Button born 1980, Massa and Alonso born 1981, Hamilton born 1985).
3. Reputation for courting controversy.
4. New rules, new cars. (compared to 2006)
5. Emergence of new circuits (Valencia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi).
6. Night racing in Singapore and Dusk racing in Abu Dhabi.
Having said all this, I look forward to the coming season because it sees Schumacher return to the grid, for a different team other than Ferrari and I hope he gets at least nine wins in this stint (taking him to 100 GP wins) and wish that he wins another title or two maybe. Either ways this is probably the biggest comeback in the last 100 years of sporting history.
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