History: Michael Schumacher Special: Part 6: Retirement, a possible comeback and the Mercedes-years

Published on 03 Jan 2019 19:00

Retirement as active Formula 1 driver for Ferrari

During the podium ceremony after winning the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari announced that Michael would retire at the end of the season. Michael then confirmed the news with the statement, "To keep it short, this was my last Grand Prix at Monza, so after consulting with the team, I have decided to stop at the end of the season. It was a great ride for me, motorsport has been a lot of fun for me over the last 30 years. I got to know a lot of people here at Ferrari, got a lot of friends and it was therefore a difficult decision to retire". 

Insiders later revealed the story that Ferrari was looking to develop a younger team. Kimi Raikkonen was brought in as a replacement for Michael. However Michael himself remained active, working at Ferrari as a special advisor.  He also attended several Grands Prix in 2007. During testing in October 2007 it was a surprise to discover that Michael was in Fiorano behind the wheel of the Ferrari F2007. According to a spokesman for Ferrari, this test was for the pleasure of the FIAT Board of Directors.. It later transpired to have been a shakedown test. On 13th November 2007, Michael retook his seat in the Ferrari for tests at Jerez. He became a Ferrari development driver and was primarily testing electronics and tires for the 2008 season.

Possible comeback after the crash of Felipe Massa

Michael was present during the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa was seriously injured after being hit on the helmet by a detached spring from Barrichello's Brawn. It soon became clear that the Brazilian was going to be out of circulation for a long time. There was plenty of speculation in the media that Michael would replace Massa on the grid. This was confirmed after Ferrari made a press release on 29 July. The Italian team had asked Schumacher to take Massa's place. Michael was involved in a test program with the older F2007 due to the restrictions on in-season tests. Eventually the comeback was called off. Michael had suffered a neck injury in a motorcycle accident earlier in the year. At first Ferrari tried to hide this but after Michael tested at Mugello it became obvious that he could not take the Brazillians seat.

In a statement, Michael announced, "The injury I sustained in February in a motorcycle accident has proven too serious, this is why I am still having problems with my neck when driving the car. Unfortunately these are the facts. This has been confirmed with numerous medical examinations. I am very disappointed, but I really did everything I could to make a comeback. I could not get a grip on the pain in my neck. After the test in Mugello, it became worse, so we decided to cancel the next week's test in Mugello".

After Michael removed himself from contention for the seat Luca Badoer was named as Massa's replacement alongside Kimi Raikkonen. The Italian, however, never acheived what was expected of him and never gained respect from the Formula 1-world.

Comeback at Mercedes

One thing that had become clear was that Michael still had the passion for racing. His Ferrari test gave the German the idea that a comeback as a racing driver was in fact possible. On 16th November 2009, Michael was no longer contractually obligated to Ferrari. Two days later, on November 18, he announced that he considered it extremely unlikely that he would have the chance to join the new Mercedes team. This was confirmed on 23rd November bythe Mercedes team manager Ross Brawn.

Also Luca di Montezemolo and Niki Lauda were both quoted as saying that they could not imagine that Michael would make a comeback in Formula 1. Former F1 driver and contemporary of Michael, Jos Verstappen thought differently about that. He was quoted as saying on 26th  November that he saw a chance that Michael would step in again. On 14 December it appeared that an agreement  had been reached and on 23 December it was revealed  that it had become reality. Michael was to return to F1, driving for Mercedes. The German team had signed him for three seasons alongside fellow countryman Nico Rosberg. To prepare Michael for the new season, Mercedes decided to do a three-day test in a GP2 car. This test on Jerez attracted the attention of many people. According to Mercedes-Pope Norbert Haug, this test was a warm-up for the new season. The test eventually turned out to be a great success. Michael was only four tenths off the fastest GP2 time ever. The fastest time was driven under better conditions and with a different tyre compound. The German left Jerez considering an eighth world title as a possiblity.

The disappointing comeback in 2010

However the three years that Michael drove for the Silver Arrows can be qualified as extremely disappointing. Mercedes was a team under construction and Michael was not able to compete with teammate Nico Rosberg from the very first race.

Jensen Button later revealed that the car, the Mercedes MGP W01 which was developed from his championship winning Brawn, was actually built for his driving style. Michael did however achieve reasonable results with a midfield car. His comeback race in 2010 at Bahrain was won by Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari. During the first season the 7 times world champion scored 72 points and ninth place in the championship. There were occasional glimpses of the the often controversial champion including when Michael passed Fernando Alonso in the final lap after the safety-car line. Michael however lost sixth place and got a penalty of twenty seconds.

Over the course of the season Michael was clearly not at home. He scored an eleventh place in Canada, a fifteenth place in Valencia and a thirteenth place in Singapore not even close to the points. It was clear that Mercedes had not delivered a car that Michael could compete for podiums with. Much to the surprise of the pundits teammate Nico Rosberg succeeded where Michael failed, Rosberg was on the podium three times and almost scored double his points. The low point of Michael's season was an incident during the Hungarian Grand Prix with Rubens Barrichello. Michael almost forced the Williams driver into the pit wall along the start finish straight at very high speed. This was criticized by a number of former Formula 1 drivers. Jackie Stewart stated: " We were only an inch away from a serious accident, that was one of the most ridiculous manoeuvres I have ever seen. It is a shame for a man with seven world titles to do something like that". 

Ex F1 driver and pundit Martin Brundle said that he found the the manoeuvre unacceptable,. "How can Michael say that Rubens chose the wrong side to overtake him?  I think there's something pretty wrong in his head." Michael was eventually issued with a 10 place grid penalty for his actions to be served at the Belgian Grand Prix.

A podium after two difficult years

The years 2011 and 2012 can be summarised as extremely difficult years for Michael. 2012 was a particularly bad year for him. This was partly due to the poorly developed Mercedes W03 however in Rosbergs hands the car was good enough for a victory. Nico Rosberg won the race at the Shanghai circuit. Michael reached the podium in Valencia. It was his only podium place in his Mercedes-period. He scored 197 points over all three seasons at Mercedes. An eighth place in the World Championship during the 2011 campaign was the best result he could manage. His final farewell from Formula 1 was confirmed in October. During the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix  Eddie Jordan already announced that Lewis Hamilton was going to make the switch from McLaren to Mercedes. The man who gave Michael Schumacher a drive in 1991 for the Belgian Grand Prix, also announced that the Michael Schumacher era was ending.

The Schumacher era was good for 91 Grand Prix victories, 68 pole positions, 77 fastest laps, 155 podiums, 24,148 kilometres in the lead and seven world titles. Statistically the best of all.

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