It was approximately one year ago that an emotional Michael Schumacher radioed his team while touring around Monza on his victory lap and announced he would be retiring at the end of the year. In what was a difficult decision for the multiple world champion, he left many fans devastated, a team at a potential loss and Formula One in a state of progression. This year has seen new drivers enter the fray and perhaps even one who may be able to take Michael’s coveted mantle away from him. In 2008 we will see a new team join the grid and throughout the paddock we can see new faces, personalities, brands and businesses. One year on, is Michael Schumacher missed, or forgotten?
His Adoring Team
Since 1996, the Ferrari team have improved dramatically, and while not all of their success can be heralded to Michael, I think it is fair to say a large portion of it can be. And likewise in the mid-nineties, when executives and principals sat around discussing the future of the team, I imagine many an hour were spent in the boardroom at Maranello discussing the very same matter in the mid-2000s. Some believe they knew Michael was leaving before he did, some believe it came as a surprise, but regardless of when they knew, it would never be an easy event for the Scuderia to move on from.
At the same time as Michael’s departure came the news that Technical Director and overall genius Ross Brawn would be taking a sabbatical. Then came the news that Nigel Stepney wasn’t entirely happy with the future plans of the squad and he too wanted to take some time out. Ten years at the forefront of Formula One had clearly taken its toll on many of the individuals who made it just that.
Ferrari radically shook the team up and moved a few people around. Kimi Raikkonen was brought on board to fill the vacant seat and the team plowed forward and into a new era.
2007 has seen new faces around the Ferrari garage, but the success hasn’t stopped. Kimi managed to take the first race victory of the new season, and Felipe Massa wasn’t far behind in the sister car. Initially it seemed, Ferrari were just racing as normal, as if nothing had happened.
Michael was then seen at a few races, and his guidance of Felipe has helped the young Brazilian to flourish in the red cars. However, it is still unknown exactly what role Schumacher is now playing at Maranello, his appearances at races appear to have declined, but so has the media interest admittedly.
The team appear to not miss Michael, and so far are still in the hunt for the title. Sure, they haven’t thrashed the competition 2002-esque, but the team are undoubtedly still considered as a member of the top two. We are yet to see how Ferrari manage the situation between their two drivers, who currently are only separated by a single point in the drivers championship, but apart from a few bumps along the way, Ferrari are still Ferrari.
His Adoring Fans
I’ll admit I was never a real Schumacher fan. I admire many of his characteristics; his determination, his resiliance, his love of his family. But for me, there was always something wrong with him that stood in the way of me really appreciating him as a special and talented racer that he was.
However, Michael changed the face of the sport and introduced many thousands of new fans. He garnered followers back in his Benetton days and took them with him when he made the move to Italy. The tifosi adored the success he brought to their team and his emotional retirement message at their home Grand Prix brought a tear to many an eye.
Michael also introduced motor-racing once again to the German television audiences. He had patriotic countrymen cheering as the national anthem bellowed out over the many circuits he had conquered. Schumacher had become an almost hero-like character in a country that (in all fairness) rarely produces a sportsman on Schumacher’s level.
I’m certain the audience figures for the
German European Grand Prix this year were down on last year. Quite simply, they must be. But having five other German pilots on the grid must have helped a little in bolstering the grandstands. Nick Heidfeld is enjoying success with BMW, and has been retained for the next two years, I would be surprised if he didn’t win in 2008. Nico Rosberg is another German racer (just about) who is a star for the future. It seems his success is currently dependent on Williams, but for sure he is a personality and his adventures so far have earned him a growing fan base. Adrian Sutil is racing his rookie year this season, and while fast, needs to secure a seat with a mid-field team if he is to progress further.
The fourth driver to hail from all things beer and efficiency is Markus Winkelhock. He only raced as a one-off due to troubles at Spyker, but we may well see him again in the future. After all, it isn’t everyday you see a German driver leading the
German European event in a Spyker. And of course, Michael’s younger brother Ralf is still charging around in a Toyota. Ralf’s future is currently in doubt as inconsistent performances this year have led his employers to look around and assess other options. Losing the Schumacher name from the competitive side of the sport wouldn’t be good, but having the name live on in sixteenth place while the sister car is scratching the points isn’t ideal either.
So with all this talent coming through, and with the German Grand Prix secure at two different circuits, it seems as though Formula One won’t lose a massive market. Some of Schumacher’s fans probably don’t watch the sport anymore, that is almost certain. But I’m willing to bet the vast majority still tune every other weekend and watch. They have new stars to cheer, new members of Ferrari to support and I don’t think it will be too long before their national anthem is played again.
His Adoring Controversies
Looking back and Michael’s antics on the track, some of which caught the attention of the stewards, it seems that one good thing came of them. For all his scrapes and misdemeanors, he did manage to give newsreaders and bloggers something to talk about. Be it right or wrong, Schumacher split F1 fans and this enabled some great debates and arguments.
Michael seemed to almost like being the rebel on occasion. He developed a win-at-all-cost mentality, and while that served him well to seven titles, it also served him well with many penalties and many raised eyebrows in the paddock. Of course, I don’t think Michael actually liked the attention this brought, but sometimes he really didn’t think anything of running another driver off the track or parking his car appropriately to impede others. Asking for a push when he knew it was against the rules or being involved with team orders, they all aided to promote a darker side of Michael and his employers.
One is for certain following Michael’s retirement, a few F1 followers thought they had seen the last of big controversies, driver clashes and general ignorance of the rules. Erm, that hasn’t exactly happened. In fact, if we’re being totally honest with one another, it has got worse.
Come on down Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Scott Speed, Nigel Stepney, Mike Coughlan et al…
2007 will unfortunately be remembered for apparent team orders in Monaco, leaked information from Ferrari to McLaren, the Hungary fiasco and altercations around the back of the Rosso garages. It doesn’t matter what the outcomes were or are of all these cases. It is irrelevant if McLaren are innocent, or if Speed deserved what he apparently got. The verdicts will not damage the sport, much. But the fact that these things happened has cast a dark cloud over the sport. It is the incident that causes the harm, not the ensuing investigations and reprimands.
I guess, judging the current climate of the sport and with a big month ahead for some of these cases, Michael is not missed. Others have filled his shoes and the rebellious nature of the man lives on in new drivers, old drivers competing with the rookies and of course, the people who make the decisions behind closed doors.
His Adoring Championship
Michael helped to make Formula One popular again. He opened the doors and pushed the sport through them. But Formula One will always do that. At the helm are equally ambitious people and drivers who will ensure Formula One survives. It is these people that have continued to make the sport enjoyable this year, and the competition that Schumacher thrived on is still there. Drivers are still making great charges through the pack, they are still banging into each other and with teams coming through and progressing closer to the front, the titles fought in the future will be close and competitive.
Michael is certainly missed by many, but F1 just keeps on going. He isn’t forgotten, not by any means, but champions come and champions go. The swing of success moves to the favour of others before returning once again to repeat the victories of the past.
We still don’t know exactly what Schumacher will be doing at Ferrari, if anything at all, but all the while he remains around the sport, his name will live on. I’m sure a lot will be said at the upcoming Italian Grand Prix about the previous year, and it will be interesting to see if Michael actually attends. But one thing is for certain, while new drivers continue to excite us, the older names remain, the records go unbeaten for now at least Michael Schumacher still has a role to play in the theatre that is Formula One.