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Schumacher: Looking back at the end of a comeback // Examining Michael's return from retirement

Published by Journeyer

It has been confirmed today that Michael Schumacher is set to retire from F1 at the end of 2012. So how do we assess Michael's second F1 career? And more importantly, where does this leave his legacy?

And it's goodbye from him... once more
And it's goodbye from him... once moreCredit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

Risky business

I actually wrote an article back in 2009, discussing the prospect of a Schumacher comeback. Even as a huge Schumacher fan, I didn't want him to come back - for a number of reasons. Let's go through each of them and see how Michael has fared over the past three years.

"Why go back and take the risk of being beaten week in and week out by a Nico Rosberg, never mind a Lewis Hamilton?"

This statement was quite prescient - as it turns out, it will be Hamilton taking Schumacher's seat.

And as it turned out, this is exactly what happened, despite other's expectations. People at the time just seemed sure Michael would be running at the front again, sooner rather than later. But having recovered from a neck injury and having to work with cars built around new and very different rules, he was always going to play catch-up. The lack of a Mercedes that could truly, consistently contend for wins (let alone a title) over the past three years didn't help either.

To be sure, there was a lot of moments where Schumacher had the better of Rosberg (Spa to India last year, Valencia to Monza this year) and even Hamilton (Monza last year comes to mind, and even Michael's podium at Valencia came somewhat at Lewis' expense). But this was nothing like the Schumacher of old, who pretty much ate up his teammates for breakfast.

"Michael went out on a high - remember that awesome recovery drive in Brazil, pulling off a gutsy pass on Kimi Räikkönen in the process?"

This move was SIX whole years ago, believe it or not. But I'm bringing this up because Michael's comeback needs to be compared to the other champion comebacks - including Kimi's.

"Michael's already achieved the whole lot, so any Schumacher comeback would only have one aim: to win the Championship for an 8th time. Can he pull it off? As much as I'd want him to, my heart of hearts tells me that he is still human, and that magic touch with the steering wheel will fade with age."

I've always believed that one major requirement for a successful comeback is to come back young. Niki Lauda came back at 33 (and was champion by 35). Kimi Räikkönen came back at 32. When Michael was in his early thirties, he was winning everything in sight: his five titles with Ferrari came at age 31-35. In contrast, Nigel Mansell came back at 41 and didn't even last half a season with McLaren. Alan Jones came back at 39 and barely lasted a season in the Haas-Lola.

Compared to them, Michael came back at the ripe old age of 41. Playing F1 catch-up in your 30s is hard enough - just ask Jacques Villeneuve. But having to do it in your 40s is probably too much for anyone - yes, even Michael Schumacher.

"Would I support Schumacher if he raced again? Absolutely. But would it be the correct decision for Michael to race again? On balance, I would say no."

So how do we judge Michael's comeback? A success? A failure? Many on the Internet took the opportunity after his crash in Singapore to have the knives out and call the comeback a failure. But there are just too many factors to consider to judge it in plain black-and-white. Michael also achieved things in this comeback he deserves credit for. That pole lap in Monaco was magnificent. And he is the oldest man to stand on an F1 podium in 42 years.

But there is one other thing we need to consider: his reputation with the people that truly count - the fans. In his first career, the typical F1 fan either loved or hated the man - there was no middle ground. But go to any F1 forum/fansite now, and you will see more than a few whose hate for Schumacher has been replaced with a new-found respect and appreciation for him. Some attribute it to his openness to the fans and media no matter what the result. Others attribute it to his willingness to continue working hard and racing hard even after everything he's achieved. To be sure, he is still criticized when he tries something silly (Hungary 2010 comes to mind), but they are nowhere near as often as they used to be.

Judgement day

So taking all this into consideration, how do we judge Michael Schumacher's comeback? For me, it was a disappointment. It was something I expected, but it was disappointing nonetheless. That said, the comeback was not for naught. He has improved his image to the fans - the people who truly matter.

And more importantly, it doesn't really take much away from his legacy. It will be remembered as a footnote, a time when not everything went his way. But in the same way that we remember Nigel Mansell for his fights to the title and not his comeback, we will remember Michael Schumacher for his successes and for his victories and for everything he's ever achieved.

Perhaps the last word belongs to Michael himself.

"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."

- Michael Schumacher

Dankeschön, Michael. I wish you all the best.




  • So how do we assess Michael's second F1 career?

    waste of time :D

  • before his comeback i despised schumacher the racing driver and wished he would stay retired. after his comeback, i can't say i'm bothered what he does. for that reason alone it was probably worth coming out of retirement. turns out he's not that evil when he's trundling around at the back.

    hopefully now he'll return to the pitwall where he always seems happier and more relaxed anyhow.

  • waste of time :D

    Well, Schumi doesn't seem to think so. It gave him the adrenaline rush he was looking for. Which is precisely why I disagree with this:

    hopefully now he'll return to the pitwall where he always seems happier and more relaxed anyhow.

    Towards the end of his sabbatical (which is what we should call 2007-2009 now), I started to get that sense from him then that he was itching to do more. We barely saw him at all in 2007, then we saw him semi-regularly in 2008. I initially thought that it was just to support Massa's title bid. But when we saw him at nearly every race in 2009, I began to wonder why he was hanging around. He wasn't really contributing much to the team then in terms of its racing, so that couldn't have been it. It really began to seem as if he missed being in the sport. It would certainly explain why Michael jumped at LDM's offer to sub for Massa that year. Even if it didn't work out, the enthusiasm showed itself, which is probably why Ross Brawn and Mercedes decided to get him on board.

    The question now is, what does he do next? He may go for something light and flexible for now (i.e. Mercedes brand ambassador), but I suspect he will be in F1 team management (or even part-ownership) sooner or later - out of sheer boredom, more than anything else. I do hope he avoids the latter, though - that never ends well.

  • So how do we assess Michael's second F1 career?

    Easy. We now know that his time at Ferrari was greatly assisted by the powers that be wanting Ferrari to dominate because it made the most money for the sport. When he finally got into a car on equal footing, he looked average. His age didn't help and all he did was stop a younger, more deserving driver to get a chance.

    Those that think he is the greatest driver ever won't care about his time at Mercedes, because their arguments are based on his stats, anyway...

    I find it amazing that he couldn't develop that car into a winner, but without special tyres, illegal traction control, Ferrari International Assistance or being able to test for 12 hours a day on a private circuit, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised really.

    The question now is, what does he do next? He may go for something light and flexible for now (i.e. Mercedes brand ambassador), but I suspect he will be in F1 team management (or even part-ownership) sooner or later - out of sheer boredom, more than anything else. I do hope he avoids the latter, though - that never ends well.

    He said in a recent F1 Magazine interview he's not interested in team ownership.

    He doesn't want to do Indy or Le Mans because it's "too dangerous" (so why go bike racing?) yet he'll get bored doing nothing.

    I think he'll go to DTM or something. I'm just glad he realised before he killed himself that it was time to stop. Some of his accidents at Mercedes have been horrific, and he's been very luckt not to get hurt.

  • Why do I think that he's going to pull off an Alan Jones and try a third time ?

  • Brilliant stuff. The definition of in-the-can - in case of emergency, break post (out).

  • Well, Schumi doesn't seem to think so. It gave him the adrenaline rush he was looking for. Which is precisely why I disagree with this:

    sounds like he's in the wrong team. red bull have x-games, cliff diving and all sorts of things to keep him off the street.

  • Easy. We now know that his time at Ferrari was greatly assisted by the powers that be wanting Ferrari to dominate because it made the most money for the sport. When he finally got into a car on equal footing, he looked average. His age didn't help and all he did was stop a younger, more deserving driver to get a chance.

    I don't think you can compare the form of Michael pre-comeback and Michael post-comeback. Not only was he out for too long (meaning he got race-rusty), but he's also a lot older now.

    I find it amazing that he couldn't develop that car into a winner, but without special tyres, illegal traction control, Ferrari International Assistance or being able to test for 12 hours a day on a private circuit, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised really.

    You're being overly harsh. I could rebut each and every point here, but the guy's retiring, and there's no changing your opinion. That said, I do agree that the restricted testing affected him more than others.

    I think he'll go to DTM or something. I'm just glad he realised before he killed himself that it was time to stop. Some of his accidents at Mercedes have been horrific, and he's been very luckt not to get hurt.

    Agreed. Given how Ralf is faring in DTM (i.e. poorly), I think it's better he doesn't get into that. A shame he won't go to Le Mans, though - he'd do very well there, I think.

  • sounds like he's in the wrong team. red bull have x-games, cliff diving and all sorts of things to keep him off the street.

    Oh dear. Don't give him ideas. :D

  • Agreed. Given how Ralf is faring in DTM (i.e. poorly), I think it's better he doesn't get into that. A shame he won't go to Le Mans, though - he'd do very well there, I think.

    What about a guest spot in the new Mercedes V8 at the Gold Coast 600 (Aussie V8 Supercars race where second drivers have to be international) next year? That could give him the tin-top itch for DTM.

  • What about a guest spot in the new Mercedes V8 at the Gold Coast 600 (Aussie V8 Supercars race where second drivers have to be international) next year? That could give him the tin-top itch for DTM.

    Well, there's an interesting idea. It would be a huge publicity coup for V8 Supercars too.

  • I don't think you can compare the form of Michael pre-comeback and Michael post-comeback. Not only was he out for too long (meaning he got race-rusty), but he's also a lot older now.

    If that's the case, why come back?

    You're being overly harsh. I could rebut each and every point here, but the guy's retiring, and there's no changing your opinion. That said, I do agree that the restricted testing affected him more than others.

    I'm not the only one. You cannot deny Ferrari were given an easy ride when he was winning. I have wanted to like him, but he always ruined it by being silly. The only conclusion must be that Bernie realised Ferrari winning was good for his pockets, and allowed it to happen.

    Agreed. Given how Ralf is faring in DTM (i.e. poorly), I think it's better he doesn't get into that. A shame he won't go to Le Mans, though - he'd do very well there, I think.

    DTM is a lot tougher than it looks.

    What about a guest spot in the new Mercedes V8 at the Gold Coast 600 (Aussie V8 Supercars race where second drivers have to be international) next year? That could give him the tin-top itch for DTM.

    Oooh. Sounds like a plan!

  • If that's the case, why come back?

    Just saw an excellent article now from Edd Straw that answers this beautifully (over the paywall - and yes, I paid just to read this article.)

    plus.autosport.co…ght-time-to-stop/

  • Just saw an excellent article now from Edd Straw that answers this beautifully (over the paywall - and yes, I paid just to read this article.)

    I read that one too. It's got some good reasoning (which I agree with) as to why we shouldn't see his comeback as a failure. But it does question the wisdom of coming back at all...

  • I read that one too. It's got some good reasoning (which I agree with) as to why we shouldn't see his comeback as a failure. But it does question the wisdom of coming back at all...

    If only he saw my article telling him coming back would be a mistake... ;)

  • But this was nothing like the Schumacher of old, who pretty much ate up his teammates for breakfast.

    Much easier to eat your team mates for breakfast when you get to pick them. This is the first time in his entire career where a team mate was given an equal chance and Schumacher got crushed by him. Even at Benetton he had control of team mates. When Johnny Herbert was parachuted into the team as Flavio's choice as soon as he went faster than Schumacher Johnny was told he would no longer be allowed to see his team mate's telemetry. Then almost immediately afterwards the stories of one Benetton having traction control emerged. Johnny was most upset that all of a sudden for the first time in his career he had a team mate who was way faster than him. Of course had Johnny seen the data his suspicions as to why he would have been slower would have been confirmed.

    At Ferrari Schumacher was up against Irvine who was never a world beater and Barrichello who was faster than him at times until he was crushed by team orders and lies.

    But go to any F1 forum/fansite now, and you will see more than a few whose hate for Schumacher has been replaced with a new-found respect and appreciation for him.

    Mu opinion hasn't changed one iota. He was over-rated before and has been shown up when he did not have a load of unfair advantages. He was supposed to be the fastest driver in the world but despite 3 years of trying still isn't faster than Nico Rosberg.

    He was and still is a thug on the track. He can smile all he likes but given the choice of losing a position or putting another driver's life at stake for him there is still only one choice.

    I think he'll go to DTM or something. I'm just glad he realised before he killed himself that it was time to stop. Some of his accidents at Mercedes have been horrific, and he's been very luckt not to get hurt.

    I am just glad he realised before he killed someone else. He has the right to risk his own life but not other people's. That is something he never seemed to grasp.

    I find it amazing that he couldn't develop that car into a winner, but without special tyres, illegal traction control, Ferrari International Assistance or being able to test for 12 hours a day on a private circuit, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised really.

    F1 is a lot tougher when you have to compete on equal terms with a team mate and the other teams. I am only sorry he did not come back as a team mate to Hamilton or Alonso who would have completely blown him away and shown how good he really was.

    Taking 3 years off is bound to have an effect on performance but given how fit he is there is no reason he should not be as fast now as before. His body and brain is probably younger now than Lauda's was when he made his comeback. Lauda may have been considearbly younger but he did not have the kind of conditioning throughout his career Schumacher had. I have read countless drivers including Jackie Stewart who say you don't lose the speed you lose the willingness to take risks. Schumacher never lost the willingness to take risks. Jackie Stewart drove an F1 car ten years after his retirement and went faster than the team's regular drivers. He had not raced in ten years and the technology was a million miles from the cars he raced but he could get in and still do it. Schumacher given 3 years of testing and racing still couldn't dominate Nico Rosberg.

  • There's a lot to go through in your comment, Steven. Much of it we've already discussed countless times at length before so I'll just respond to this last paragraph.

    Taking 3 years off is bound to have an effect on performance but given how fit he is there is no reason he should not be as fast now as before. His body and brain is probably younger now than Lauda's was when he made his comeback. Lauda may have been considearbly younger but he did not have the kind of conditioning throughout his career Schumacher had. I have read countless drivers including Jackie Stewart who say you don't lose the speed you lose the willingness to take risks. Schumacher never lost the willingness to take risks. Jackie Stewart drove an F1 car ten years after his retirement and went faster than the team's regular drivers. He had not raced in ten years and the technology was a million miles from the cars he raced but he could get in and still do it. Schumacher given 3 years of testing and racing still couldn't dominate Nico Rosberg.

    I remember back in 2009 that you thought Michael would be competitive immediately - and I was very surprised at that. I think that age is a much bigger factor than you make it out to be here. 43 is 43, whichever way you slice it. And when you're up against Alonso (31), Hamilton (27), and Vettel (25), that is a lot of years to make up.

    It's a very good point you raise about conditioning, but I think it's cancelled out by the fact that everyone receives very similar (if not identical) levels of conditioning now. In effect, that just levels the playing field for everyone else again.

  • Oh, one more:

    He was and still is a thug on the track. He can smile all he likes but given the choice of losing a position or putting another driver's life at stake for him there is still only one choice.

    Given the number of times he's been passed in his comeback, you'd have to say that he gives way a lot more often than you say he does. But I digress.

  • I remember back in 2009 that you thought Michael would be competitive immediately - and I was very surprised at that. I think that age is a much bigger factor than you make it out to be here. 43 is 43, whichever way you slice it. And when you're up against Alonso (31), Hamilton (27), and Vettel (25), that is a lot of years to make up.

    It isn't in other forms of racing though. Look at Le Mans for example. They can go well I to their 40's, race 3 hour stints at nearly F1 speeds. Seems odd that F1 would be considered that much harder - schumi himself has even said recently that he doesn't have to train as hard these days...

  • There's a lot to go through in your comment, Steven. Much of it we've already discussed countless times at length before so I'll just respond to this last paragraph.

    With all due respect, I think any post reflecting on schumi is always going to bring up these kinds of issues though?

  • I remember back in 2009 that you thought Michael would be competitive immediately - and I was very surprised at that. I think that age is a much bigger factor than you make it out to be here. 43 is 43, whichever way you slice it. And when you're up against Alonso (31), Hamilton (27), and Vettel (25), that is a lot of years to make up.

    I don't believe 3 years is the difference between being the fastest driver around and being an also ran. There may be a slight decrease in speed but evidence elsewhere says that doesn't really happen to people who are committed enough. Had he come back and beaten Rosberg consistently but not been able to make the difference to make the car win his performance would make sense compared to his previous performance level. As it is I just don't understand why he has achieved so little in 3 years.

    Everyone has similar conditioning but that doesn't cancel out Schumacher's conditioning. Schumacher's conditioning now is comparable with the top guys but Lauda's was not. He however was clever enough to cope with Prost being faster and found a way to beat him. I would argue 43 year olds now are in real terms younger than 35 year olds 30 years ago.

  • before his comeback i despised schumacher the racing driver and wished he would stay retired. after his comeback, i can't say i'm bothered what he does. for that reason alone it was probably worth coming out of retirement. turns out he's not that evil when he's trundling around at the back.

    It's quite exciting for Schumi to announce a coming or going and for us not to have to react to it in any way. Going = podcast on. Coming back = podcast off (briefly). Going again = no change!

  • It's quite exciting for Schumi to announce a coming or going and for us not to have to react to it in any way. Going = podcast on. Coming back = podcast off (briefly). Going again = no change!

    it's true. i didn't have a mental breakdown or anything today :)

  • With all due respect, I think any post reflecting on schumi is always going to bring up these kinds of issues though?

    i'm more interested in the "was it worth coming back debate", than "rehashing all the bad things he did since he was a teenager" conversation.

    or though i guess you're welcome to write that post too.

  • i'm more interested in the "was it worth coming back debate", than "rehashing all the bad things he did since he was a teenager" conversation.

    I think he has done more for his personal image but less for his driving reputation. However, there are enough mitigating factors (age, slow car, time off) so that as Journeyer said in the post, this will just be a footnote.

  • With all due respect, I think any post reflecting on schumi is always going to bring up these kinds of issues though?

    Exactly. But going through them again would just be retreading on old ground. And it's one we've agreed to disagree on a long time ago.

    i'm more interested in the "was it worth coming back debate", than "rehashing all the bad things he did since he was a teenager" conversation.

    Indeed. Although this is, somewhat surprisingly, something many of us seem to agree on, fan or not.

  • Indeed. Although this is, somewhat surprisingly, something many of us seem to agree on, fan or not.

    the only really bad thing he did during the comeback, was pitwall-gate against rubens. if it hadn't been for that you could argue my perception of the man had made a complete about-face.

  • i'm more interested in the "was it worth coming back debate", than "rehashing all the bad things he did since he was a teenager" conversation.

    It would be intersting to hear Ross Brawn's view on that and the views of the Mercedes board. They may think it is more important to have his face on their ads than they are concerned about his driving. It would also be interesting to know how these people were thinking before Lewis Hamilton dropped in their laps. I think the relative performances of Hamilton and Rosberg next season will tell us more about Schumacher's performance. If Rosberg matches Hamilton then Schumacher looks better. If however Lewis blows Nico away then Schumacher's performance suddenly looks an awful lot worse.

  • If Rosberg matches Hamilton then Schumacher looks better. If however Lewis blows Nico away then Schumacher's performance suddenly looks an awful lot worse.

    you'd have to assume if schumi thought his performance was still up to scratch, he'd be looking for another drive on the grid.

  • I'm thinking back and wondering how (comparably) fast must his Ferrari have been?! ;) (I know it's been referred to already). It's obvious he's lost some skills, but just how much? I'm not trying to take anything away from the man - I used to like his clinical & efficient driving style (whereas I'm not so fond of Vettel's though - strange). It may seem cliché, but you can only drive against the cars that are around you. I think he'd make a better team-principle - so he can use his vast F1-brain, as his F1-body has seemingly finally let him down.

  • This is a really good post and it's interesting how anti-comeback you were for a supporter. :)

    I think he's done a good job of changing perceptions of him, Hungary 2010 aside (and maybe a few other things here and there). He's more open than ever. He's shown a willingness to keep trying. He'll get away with being matched by Nico Rosberg in his 'second career' because of the age thing and the lost three years, and not having the support network he had at Ferrari. Everything there and at Benetton was geared around him and that's not a luxury he had here.

    It may be interesting again two or three years from now when we know how Rosberg rates against Hamilton. After an allowance in the first year to let Lewis adjust, how will those guys get on? If in 2014 Nico (if it is Nico still there..) runs Lewis hard or beats him, we'll know Michael's second try was better than we're giving him credit for right now. If Lewis walks all over Nico we'll know Michael really had lost it.

    His career will definitely be viewed as a whole with all the negative baggage that goes with it, and rightly so.

  • It was a long time coming, I couldn't see him going to any other team really at this point... he's not the type of driver to simply accept a small team drive. I won't miss him and that's a sad thing, as strange as it may sound. He's a 7 time world champion, the most celebrated driver in the sport for what he's achieved and he's spent the last 3 years making a mockery of everything he supposedly worked for in the past. It's sad that this shadow will always be there on the record books, sad for him at least. For me? I don't have a bit of remorse to see him go to be honest, much like never had any remorse in 2006.

    It's possibly quite harsh on him but he's Michael Schumacher and he'll always be the same Schumacher to me. Even in his return he's done things indefensible but he's also made a load of huge errors and just been disappointing. His biggest error was getting back in the car with a generally uncompetitive team. Well, not uncompetitive, just not as promising as I'm sure he saw them to be when joining them after the year of Brawn.

    He may not be the same level of marmite hate or love that he had in his Ferrari era of the sport but I suppose he'll always have history on his side in terms of what he did in F1. It's interesting to read how you view it as a big Schumi fan journeyer and I admire your honesty over his return in the sport. I do think that this spell has opened his eyes a little to what Formula 1 consists off much more than he ever considered at Ferrari with everything running the way he wanted. At the same time, I can't help but think to events that really make you question why he even bothered returning whether it be Mercedes underperforming, Schumi being his old controversial self here and there or whether it was just his lack of impressive performances - it wasn't worth it at all.

  • This whole thing seems to have been handled in a very odd way. If there was a real possibility of Schumacher retiring (again), why not announce that at the same time as Hamilton's move? I suppose it might have been buried a bit, or competed with Hamilton for column inches, but to me this looks like he was shown the door by his one-time friends Ross Brawn and Mercedes, desperately looked around for something else to do for a week, and only then decided to retire. I've seen reports (can't remember if it was on here or not) that said this time he's retiring on his own terms. It doesn't look like that to me. Eddie Jordan tipped us all off weeks ago and no-one on the pit lane has wanted to take Schumacher in during the intervening time. That doesn't sound like someone who's retiring through their own choice to me.

  • when you put it like that. me neither.

  • This whole thing seems to have been handled in a very odd way. If there was a real possibility of Schumacher retiring (again), why not announce that at the same time as Hamilton's move? I suppose it might have been buried a bit, or competed with Hamilton for column inches, but to me this looks like he was shown the door by his one-time friends Ross Brawn and Mercedes, desperately looked around for something else to do for a week, and only then decided to retire. I've seen reports (can't remember if it was on here or not) that said this time he's retiring on his own terms. It doesn't look like that to me. Eddie Jordan tipped us all off weeks ago and no-one on the pit lane has wanted to take Schumacher in during the intervening time. That doesn't sound like someone who's retiring through their own choice to me.

    There is that article in Autosport last week that said Mercedes only really began to look seriously when Schumi couldn't make his mind up. Then today, Ross had hinted that Michael wanted to commit for 2013, but was unsure beyond that. On the other hand, Mercedes was looking for a longer commitment (which surprises me considering Michael's age). So all that said, I think this was still a mutual decision to move on, just that it took longer than many of us thought it would.

    Or, on the other hand, I could be cynical and say announcing Lewis coming in and Schumi retiring separately gets more column inches for both of them (and Mercedes).

  • Well, there's an interesting idea. It would be a huge publicity coup for V8 Supercars too.

    If he does, I hope he does better than Jacques Villeneuve

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