Trackback – A racing legend retires

The signs looked ominous for Schumacher fans. A second engine problem in as many weeks, a trophy handed over even before the race began. Ferrari fans the world over might have suffered a cardiac arrest during qualifying at Sao Paulo had they not seen the crueller engine-failure endured by the seven-time world champion at the race in Suzuka. Coming into Sao Paulo with a 10-point cushion following Schumacher’s retirement at Suzuka while leading, Fernando Alonso looked all but set to become F1 youngest two-time champion. And with Schumacher starting at No. 10 on the grid, one felt it was a race to be added in the F1 records. Perhaps that prompted the organisers to request Pele to hand over a special trophy to MS.

Nico Rosberg may have ruined the day for Williams on Lap 1; Alonso and Renault won the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship, but the day belonged to Ferrari, with Felipe Massa winning in front of an ecstatic home crowd and Schumacher signing off in style, summing up all his energies for the last race of the season, and more importantly of his career.

Massa, the first Brazilian to win on home soil since Ayrton Senna’s victory in 1993, had a good start on pole. Michael had an even better one, overtaking Red Bull’s Robert Doornbos and fellow German Nick Heidfeld in the BMW Sauber to move ahead to eighth. The next lap he went ahead of his brother Ralf. In the meanwhile, Williams driver Nico Rosberg – who had a great start to the season in his debut race – ended the season in misery for his team – touching the back of team-mate Mark Webber, both cars having to retire.

Misfortune struck Schumacher once again on Lap 9. What seemed a brilliant overtaking manoeuvre to get ahead of Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella at Turn One turned into a disaster, as Schumacher’s Ferrari got a puncture in the rear left-tyre. A small touch caused the damage; though many blamed debris on the track, the master could not have erred. An 11-second stop in the pits ensued, and now for sure even the staunchest of believers would have given up on the miracle. Schumacher was relegated to No. 20 on the track, while Alonso was racing along to another podium finish.

A few laps later BMW Sauber was assured fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship, with both Toyota cars joining the retirement list. By Lap 18, Schumacher was still at 17, with all cars behind him having retired. But this also egged on the great champion, who by Lap 33 was up to tenth place. Briton Jenson Button also was making a move up, and on Lap 29 went past Kimi Raikonnen, the man who will replace Schumacher at Ferrari.

Alonso moved up to second following a long pit-stop for Mclaren’s Pedro De la Rosa, on a one-stop strategy. Schumacher raced up to eighth, focussed on clinching the Constructors’ for Ferrari, which still seemed up for grabs. No one seemed to have an answer for the German, clocking faster laps than the rest lap after lap. Schumacher entered the pits on Lap 47 in sixth place, and managed to get out in ninth, ahead of De la Rosa. By Lap 51, Schumacher was up to sixth place again, having overtaken his team-mate in Ferrari’s glory days, the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, now driving a Honda. For the sentiment of the occasion, even the critics would have forgotten of the infamous Ferrari team orders of 2002, when Schumacher overtook Barrichello. Today was the day to celebrate the glittering career of Michael Schumacher.

And he gave further proof – not that he needed any- of his genius. The German was once again eyeing the Renault of Fisichella, and by Lap 63, he had his reward, a mistake from the Italian enabled Schumacher slipped into fifth on Turn One. And the cherry on the cake –or career in this case- was the duel with Kimi Raikonnen, Schumacher emerging victorious in a wheel-to-wheel with the Finn at Turn One on Lap 69. With two laps to go, Schumacher could not manage a podium or the Constructors’ Championship for Team Ferrari; Massa, Alonso and Button taking the honours.

Celebrations befitting a season-ender followed. Felipe Massa jumped in delight in front of a crowd that had witnessed a great race, while Alonso too enjoyed his second consecutive championship. Schumacher too joined in a brief moment but did not get a chance to uncork the champagne.

Many champions may have been forced to go when they were beyond their best, but no one who saw Schumacher race today would have dared said so. Maybe Jean Todt might have asked Schumacher to reconsider his retirement after the race. The podium perhaps rightly was taken by the talent that remains for the seasons to come. Surely, the Alonsos, Buttons and Massas will have many more podiums to come. But they also had the honour of racing alongside perhaps the sport’s greatest living legend, a man who – in spite of all the controversies that have dogged him – quietly receded into the background that day, leaving his supporters to savour a career of greatness.

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