Monday, October 23, 2006
Farewell to a Champion
He didn’t win the title or even the race. Indeed he didn’t even make the podium. However, Michael Schumacher’s farewell drive in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix illustrated the grit, skill and determination that has made him the greatest driver Formula One racing has ever seen.
The odds were stacked against the Ferrari star from the outset after technical problems in qualifying at Interlagos left him only tenth on the grid. However, an excellent start saw him up to sixth place by the time the safety car intervened following Williams’ Nico Rosberg’s early accident.
Soon after the race restarted, Schumacher dived down the inside of Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault to seize P4, but as he exited the Senna S he appeared to lose the back end of the car, the Italian promptly regaining the position. The cause of the slide quickly became clear - a left-rear puncture thought to have been caused by debris on the track.
Schumacher limped back to the pits to take on fuel and fresh rubber, but when he rejoined he was running 19th - and last. However, he was immediately back up to speed, slamming in fastest sector times and slicing his way past backmarkers. His progress slowed somewhat when he once more found himself behind Fisichella in the closing stages, but the Renault driver was eventually forced into a mistake by Schumacher’s relentless pressure, running wide at Turn 1 and surrendering fifth place in the process.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen - the man who will replace Schumacher at Ferrari - was the next target, and the Finn defended aggressively to maintain fourth place. It took a special move from Schumacher, the pair going side-by-side into Turn 1 just inches apart, with the seven-time champion ultimately emerging ahead.
That left him chasing Jenson Button for a podium, but with just two laps remaining there simply wasn’t time to catch the Honda, despite Schumacher's penultimate lap being the fastest of the race, over half a second quicker than team mate Felipe Massa’s best.
Schumacher’s competitive Formula One career may be over, but true to form, the great man entertained us to the last. Goodbye Schumi!