Michael Schumacher announced on Sunday night that he will retire from racing at the end of this season. Thus ends a chapter of my life. I only ever really became interested in F1 because of him, so the interest is likely to wane now he’ll be leaving in three races’ time.
I started watching Formula One when he started at Ferrari. He was going from being world champion at Benetton to a no-hope team, merely for the challenge. He could’ve driven for any team, picked the best car each year and won many more world championships. Instead he spent the next four years in the F1 wilderness, building a team around him that would go on to win four back to back driver and constructors championships. Only a true champion gives up a ride in the best car in the paddock for a challenge like that.
No doubt he’s had his share of controversy, but only because he’s a ferocious and tenacious competitor. Every year he’s been asked why he doesn’t retire; every year he’s replied in the best way possible, by maintaining a passion and a drive to win that is unequalled. That’s what makes this so weird; he’s always always said he would retire when he didn’t have the same level of passion anymore. Michael Schumacher without that level of intense passion for his racing doesn’t seem like Michael Schumacher.
Anyway, watching the Italian GP at Monza on Sunday night as I rocked Ella to sleep at 1 am brought back a ton of memories. I used to watch every GP for several years there, despite their late hour, and since very often Schumi would win I heard the German/Italian national anthems back to back many times. Hearing them again on Sunday night brought back memories of holding Chelsea as a tiny baby at our Mentone house, rocking her to sleep to the sounds of those anthems; and sitting on the couch in our little Whitley room huddled under a blanket. All those times I wondered how long this guy could go on, realising I was witnessing something special, something that could not last forever, and the finiteness made it all the more significant.
Seriously, most teams never win the amount of races he’s won. His championship record (7 – or maybe 8 by the end of this year) will never be equalled. They’ve changed the rules of F1 literally because of his dominance of it.
I’ve always said that F1 is like a soap opera for blokes. It has all the personalities, all of the tantrums, the dramas, etc. At the height of my passion for it, that was what I loved; the highs, the lows, those years where Hakkinen would just beat him despite being in a vastly superior car, the crashes, the broken leg, all of it.
Mostly I just loved watching someone who loved what they did, and let it show. There was an article in the Age the other day comparing Steve Irwin to people like Michael Schumacher for sheer passion for their craft; and that’s about right I reckon. They loved it, and they showed it. May he love whatever he moves onto as much as he’s loved this, and may he win his eighth driver’s championship in the weeks to come.