Seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher is retiring. We’ve heard this before, of course, in 2006. Schumacher jokingly made reference to his ‘first retirement’ when he broke the news yesterday, saying: “Maybe this time I won’t come back.”
This time it seems highly unlikely he will be back. For the first time in his F1 career, which began in 1991, he finds himself squeezed out of his current team. With Lewis Hamilton replacing him at Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull occupied, and Ferrari not likely to consider bringing him back to partner Fernando Alonso, Schumacher’s prospects of landing a top seat for 2013 have vanished.
Since returning to the sport three years ago Schumacher has seldom looked like the driver who crushed his opponents between 2001 and 2004. There have been occasional flashes of promise such as his climb from 24th to fifth in Belgium last year, and his quickest time in qualifying at Monaco this year. The latter should have earned him pole position, but for a five-place grid penalty following a collision with a rival in the previous race. This was just one example of the surfeit of mistakes Schumacher has made since his comeback. It’s hard to see it as anything other than the inevitable diminishing of ability that comes to all of us with age, even seven-time world champions.
It was evident in practice in Japan today. Heading into the Spoon curve, one of the Suzuka’s trickiest corners, he touched the grass with his wheels and spun into the barriers. “I think I was already concentrating too much on the corner ahead of me and therefore had a wheel on the dirt and went off,” he explained.
What next for Schumacher?
Schumacher may have lost what it takes to compete at the front in the pinnacle of motor racing, but hopefully that won’t keep him from competing in another series. How exciting it would be to see him follow former team mate Rubens Barrichello to IndyCar, where he could compete in that great motor race, the Indianapolis 500. Or for him to return to sportscar racing, where he first impressed Mercedes in 1990, and make a second start at the Le Mans 24 Hours. However, this is likely to prove no more than a pipe dream. Schumacher has previously said he considers oval racing and the endurance classic too dangerous.
An alternative could be Germany’s high profile touring car series, the DTM, where Schumacher made four starts for Mercedes in 1991. Mercedes still compete there and among their drivers are ex-F1 talents like Schumacher’s younger brother Ralf and old sparring partner David Coulthard.
It may be "sayonara" from Schumacher for now, but hopefully it won’t be the last we see of F1’s most successful driver of all time.
Who’s on form in Japan
The shortest odds are on Lewis Hamilton (2.20) and Sebastian Vettel (3.00) to take pole position at Suzuka, but it was their team mates who set the pace in practice. Jenson Button was fastest in the first session and Mark Webber in the second. Both are at odds of 9.00 to claim pole.
Perhaps the most interesting betting option is Lotus. Both drivers are on long odds of 30.00 for pole position, but Romain Grosjean looked quick on the softer tyres in second practice, while Kimi Raikkonen’s efforts were hampered by a technical problem. The black-and-gold cars make for an interesting outside bet, particularly Grosjean, who has out-qualified his team mate eight to five so far this year. “There are definitely still a few tenths [of a second] we can find,” he said after practice.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.