Thanks for the memories, Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher at the 2010 Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park
On November 26th, the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time will hang up his helmet for the last time. This brings much sadness to many millions of motorsport fans around the globe.
Being a Michael Schumacher fan since the early 90′s, I have witnessed many great moments and the occasional controversial incident. Watching the battles in my teenage years with his idol, the late Ayrton Senna, early in his career in the Benetton were very memorable, even to this day.
The death of Senna rocked the world no matter who you supported as a driver. The respect Schumacher had for Senna was immense on and off the track. His favourite Senna moment was pressuring him to spin off in Brazil, which showed the world that he was arriving as a threat for years to come.
Schumacher was leading the championship handsomely, winning six of the first seven races in 1994, when Senna was tragically killed. He went on to win the championship, albeit with a shady move, taking Damon Hill out of the decider in Adelaide.
The torch had well and truly been passed to Michael to be the headline act in Formula 1. 1995 was a year of dominance, winning nine of the 17 races and the championship comfortably.
Ferrari lured Schumacher for the 1996 season with a two year, 60 million dollar contract however challenging years lay ahead. This team needed transforming into a world championship contender and who else to do it than the double world champion?
The car would retire from six races due to reliability issues, however Schumacher would manage three victories, which was more than Ferrari won altogether in the five previous years.
He managed to lap the entire field up to third place on a wet Barcelona track for his first win, showing his immense skill.
1997 was a year Schumacher took the fight up to the Williams team all the way to the final race where, in a moment of madness, he attempted to take Villeneuve off the track. He failed, but the criticism was immense.
He fought so hard through the season and possibly believed that forcing an opponent off was ok as Prost and Senna had done in previous years. Times had changed and what he did was unacceptable and he paid the price for many years.
Racing against the mighty McLaren would prove tough in 98 and 99. Yet again losing the championship in the last race, which was heart-breaking for Schumacher and the Ferrari faithful. However, breaking his leg in a crash in the British Grand Prix in 1999 was another setback in bringing the title to Ferrari.
Then, in 2000, the Michael/Ferrari dominance began! Five well deserved world titles, 48 grand prix victories across these championships, and supreme performances by the best racing driver of all time. Schumacher finally had a championship winning car and utilized it to its full potential.
Schumacher retired at the end of a 2006 championship campaign which fell short of an eighth world title. Michael seemed to be mentally tired after many years at the pointy end in title fights.
A recent interview with Mika Hakkinen seemed to back this up, as former champions are amazed how Michael stayed focused and competitive year after year since the early 90′s, as they found being involved in a championship fight in back to back seasons mentally draining.
His Mercedes comeback in the past three seasons have not yielded the results he expected, but I have seen many performances that bring back memories of his younger years. Being 43 years old and racing wheel to wheel against Hamilton, Vettel, Button and Alonso in their prime and out-qualifying his younger team mate on numerous occasions shows he is truly a great competitor.
Schumacher holds many records in Formula 1, including most world titles (seven), race wins (91), wins in a season (13), wins with one team (72), consecutive years with win (15), pole positions (68), fastest laps (77) and total podium finishes (155) to name a few of them. His statistics are phenomenal and his driving skills over a long career are second to none.
Formula 1 is in great shape moving forward, with a great crop of drivers and as a massive motorsport fan I will continue to watch this great talent emerge.
However when Michael Schumacher crosses the finish line in his last race it will be an emotional moment, when the best Formula 1 driver I have ever seen will be finished forever.
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