Six years ago, when Michael Schumacher announced his retirement from Formula One, one could feel that his departure would create a big vacuum in a sport which had become synonymous with the record-shattering German since the mid 1990s. The man, who had achieved near invincibility in his Ferrari, had loomed over Formula One for more than a decade and had achieved the deserving tag of being the sport’s greatest.
However, today, after Schumacher announced his retirement after the end of this season, there doesn’t seem to be a sensé of déjà vu as far as the impact of his announcement is concerned. For, unlike in 2006 when he was at his peak, Schumacher, in his second avatar, has been a shadow of his past so much so that he hasn’t been in contention for winning the championships of the past three years, something unimaginable till 2006.
The decision by the seven-time-world champion to return to the grid in
2010 had taken many by surprise. While many of his fans were hoping that the return of the Schumacher - Ross Brawn combination would recreate the magic of the Benetton and Ferrari years, there were others who were skeptical about his chances. For, he may have been the fittest 41-year-old when he made his surprise return three years ago but, as many experts had pointed out then, competing with younger, fitter and talented drivers was always going to be an uphill struggle.
And that’s how it turned out to be. It isn’t easy if you have to compete against the likes of Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Webber. That too, when you are returning after a gap of three years during which time the sport has undergone lot of changes. Things get worse if your car is not the best of the lot.
In 2010, Schumacher finished ninth in the championship with his best result being three 4th placed finishes. Not only did he fail to become a title contender, but he was also outperformed by his younger and relatively less experienced teammate Nico Rosberg, who hadn’t won a race in his career till then. Rosberg finished seventh in the championship with twice as many points as those of Schumacher’s.
It would have been unfair to judge Schumacher in his first comeback year as 2010 was the first outing for Mercedes GP as well (following its takeover of Brawn GP).
Last year, Schumacher, though again not in the reckoning for the drivers’ title by a fair margin, had narrowed the points gap with Rosberg. Schumacher finished just 13 points behind his younger teammate. He finished eighth in the championship, more than 300 points behind champion Sebastian Vettel.
2012 has been yet another disappointing season for Schumacher despite him achieving his first podium finish in a Mercedes GP car. He is currently in 12th position in the championship, around 50 points behind Rosberg, who took a step ahead this year by notching up his first career win in China. Schumacher’s comeback has also been characterised by driving mistakes, like the one witnessed in Singapore two weeks ago, for which he has received a grid penalty in this weekend’s Japanese GP.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment about Schumacher’s comeback was that he couldn’t spearhead the challenge of a new team, the way he did in the past with Benetton and Ferrari or the way Alonso is doing currently with Ferrari.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that he was no match for the younger drivers -- he was regularly outperformed by his team-mate.
Then again, perhaps the biggest disappointment is that those who only saw his second coming would regard him as a rather mediocre driver. A reality that we all know is far from true.
One day in the not so distant future, Schumacher will sit out and ask himself just one question: Was the comeback worth it?
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