x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Farewell for a second time from F1 for Schumacher

The seven-time world champion's disappointing stint with Mercedes-GP in F1 has not diminished his status in the sport.

Michael Schumacher is to wave goodbye to Formula One for a second time at the end of the season.
Michael Schumacher is to wave goodbye to Formula One for a second time at the end of the season.

When Michael Schumacher returned from a three-year retirement to race for Mercedes-GP in 2010, he said his mind and body felt recharged and "fully loaded".

Yesterday, as he announced his retirement once again - "this time for ever," he joked - he explained the primary reason was that his body's batteries were running "in the red zone".

The 43 year old, the most successful driver Formula One has ever seen with seven world championships, provided a rare display of emotion as he confirmed his departure from the sport he once dominated.

His final race will be the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in late November and if the script from which the German read had been written by a Hollywood director, his six-race swansong will see him secure a victory.

Yet, unfortunately for Schumacher, such a result has so far proved elusive in the 52 grands prix he has competed in with the Silver Arrows.

It is this reason more than his ageing body that was likely the real reason behind his retirement and he alluded to as much in some of his words.

"It is not my ambition to just drive around, but to fight for victories; and the pleasure of driving is nourished by competitiveness," he said.

Flanked by Ross Brawn, Mercedes's team principal, and Norbert Haug, the vice-president of Mercedes-Benz motorsport, F1's most decorated driver accepted his return will not be regarded as a success.

The car he was provided was never to the standard of which he had hoped and, in recent months, a lack of focus had crept in to his driving. "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," Schumacher said.

"It is without doubt that we did not achieve our goal to develop a world championship-fighting car within those years. It is also without doubt that I cannot provide a long-term perspective to anyone. But then it is also clear that I can still be very happy about my overall achievements in Formula One."

Schumacher, who celebrated his 300th grand prix in Belgium last month, maintains he has improved in each of the three years since his return and certainly a highlights reel of his Mercedes days would source the majority of its material from 2012.

In Monaco in May, he finished fastest in qualifying, but suffered a grid penalty and was relegated to sixth. Mark Webber, the Australian who had inherited the front position on the grid, proceeded to convert pole on Monte Carlo's narrow streets to victory.

The following month in Valencia, Schumacher achieved his best result post-Ferrari: third place at the European Grand Prix, again on a street circuit.

"I am still able to compete with the best drivers of the world," he said. "This is something that makes me proud, and this is part of why I never regretted my comeback."

Whether Schumacher's reputation has been dented by his Mercedes experience is a source of debate.

For every Monaco or Valencia, he has endured a Singapore, where last month he rammed into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne after misjudging his braking point. The result was a 10-place grid penalty, which he will serve on Sunday in Japan.

Schumacher has won 91 grands prix during his career and in 2002 went an entire season without finishing outside the top three positions.

Yet as significant as his retirement seems - he has won seven world titles, the rest of the current 24-driver field share seven between them - it was not a surprise.

With Lewis Hamilton being announced as a Mercedes driver from 2013 onwards, the veteran had effectively had his tenure at Brawn's team ended for him.

Brawn called him the greatest driver this century and Schumacher said he "had options" to remain in F1 - believed to be Sergio Perez's vacant seat at Sauber as the Mexican moves to McLaren - but in the end decided "it is time to say goodbye".

"In the past six years I have learnt a lot about myself and I am thankful for it," he said.

"For example, [I've learnt] that you can open yourself up without losing focus; that losing can be both more instructive than winning - something I had lost sight of sometimes in earlier years; that you have to appreciate to be able to do what you love; that you have to live your convictions. I have opened my horizons, and I am at ease with myself."

Having spent 19 years at the top level, stepping away permanently will not be easy, but he insists he feels no sorrow.

"It's not painful, it's sort of a relief," he said. "It is something I am looking forward to; there are many other beautiful things in life that you can do."

He refused to be drawn on his plans for the future, but said he had several opportunities available to him in the world of motorsport. His first task, however, will be to recharge his batteries.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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