[Updated] Michael Schumacher has called time on his second coming in F1, the seven times world champion announced today that the Brazilian Grand Prix will be his 306th and last.
At 43 years 277 days, Schumacher is nearly twice the age he was when he made his F1 debut at the 1991 Belgian GP (22 years 235 days) and he holds the record for the longest period between his first and last GP starts.
Schumacher, 43, was forced into retirement for the second time by Mercedes’ decision to hire Lewis Hamilton, which followed a period of indecision from Schumacher about whether to sign on for another year. It follows his decision in 2006 to quit, which led to three years on the sidelines before his dramatic decision to come back with Mercedes in 2010.
“Although I am still able to compete with the best drivers, at some point it is good to say goodbye,” he said in Suzuka on Thursday.
“During the past month I was not sure if I still had the motivation and energy which is necessary to go on. It is not my style to go on if I’m not 100% with it but with today’s decision I feel relieved.
“In the end, it is not my ambition to just drive around but to fight for victories; and the
pleasure of driving is nourished by competitiveness.
“I said at the end of 2009 that I want to be measured by my success, and this is why I had a lot of criticism in the past three years which partly was justified.
“It is without doubt that we did not achieve our goals to develop a world championship fighting car. But it is also very clear that I can still be very happy about my overall achievements in the whole time of my career.
“In the past six years I have learned a lot about myself. For example, that you can open yourself without losing focus. That losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning. Sometimes I lost sight of this in the early years. But you appreciate to be able to do what you love to do. That you should live your convictions and I was able to do so.”
This last paragraph is a nod in the direction of some of his mistakes in his early career, where he crossed the line of what is and is not acceptable in the pursuit of winning in sport. It’s the closest he will come to apologising for events like Monaco 2006 and others.
Schumacher’s comeback has indeed yielded precious few results and a lot of disappointments. There was one pole position, in Monaco, which was taken away with a grid penalty carried over from Spain for causing a collision.
There was no win and just one podium, from his race in Valencia, while he scored four fourth places among his results in the 52 races since his comeback. He scored points on 30 of those 52 races, but also had some bad luck with mechanical failures, especially this year, where he has retired five times with reliability issues. In total he has retired 7 times in 2012, the most in the field.
He averaged 3.6 points over the three years, which is the equivalent of an eighth place at every race.
In comparison to team mate Rosberg, who hasn’t had a great season since his win in China in April, (apart from P2 in Monaco) Schumacher scored 191 points compared to Rosberg’s 324 in the 52 race period since the start of 2010. Rosberg’s average is 6.2 points per race.
In qualifying, Schumacher is ahead of his team mate this year, averaging position 7.7 on the grid, compared to 8.5 for Rosberg.
In 2011 Rosberg was on average P7.6 on the grid and Schumacher P10.5, so there has been a marked improvement in his qualifying performance this year.
He’s outqualified Rosberg 8-6 this season. The last occasion that Schumacher led a Grand Prix was on this track in Suzuka in 2011.
In Spa Bernie Ecclestone said that it was a shame that Schumacher would be “leaving us without a win” on his comeback and he and Mercedes will feel the same way. In reality the car wasn’t particularly close to it, except for the China weekend this year which Rosberg capitalised on and Monaco.
Had Schumacher not made that mistake in Spain, crashing into Bruno Senna, he would have started from pole in Monaco and that could have given him the win, given how competitive Rosberg’s car was in the race (notwithstanding his car let him down in the race)
The timing of the Hamilton announcement and Schumacher’s statement today is particularly cruel, given that it comes after one of his worst mistakes in the last three years; rear ending Jean Eric Vergne in Singapore, for which he was given another grid penalty carried over to this weekend in Japan.
It is a real low note on which to conduct the business of losing your seat and subsequently stepping down and it comes after a period in which he has rediscovered his groove.
Many fans that will be disappointed that he has not been taken up by Ferrari or Sauber, but F1 is an unsentimental business and the sport is moving on, like a train, leaving the 43 year old behind on the platform for good.
It’s hard to see him reinventing himself in a team management role, given the changes that have happened at Mercedes with Niki Lauda coming in. If there was a role for Schumacher, that was probably it, although Ross Brawn did say in Monza that Schumacher’s expertise in engines would be very valuable to them in development of the 2014 engines. But that was before they hired Hamilton.
Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche said in Bild newspaper this week, “I hope that when Michael stops driving, he will remain a partner of Mercedes.”