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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.