So farewell then Michael Schumacher: MS, Schumi, Schu, Rainmaster (and many other names, kind and unkind, bestowed on you across a long and amazing career). You’re finally going, and with your exit you’re ushering in a new age.

No matter exactly how you feel about Schumacher – and lord knows there must be a million wildly differing points of view, mostly extreme at one end or the other of the love/hate spectrum (he’s a man who does not particularly inspire any middleground) – you can’t deny that the sport will be a different, and probably lesser, animal without him next year.

To fans of German stereotyping Michael Schumacher is the Red Baron; a two-dimensional caricature of cold, clinical attitude, arrogance and villainy. To Motormouth he’s the Red Herring; a fascinating layered creature of all kinds of misunderstood and misleading traits and messages.
He’s not invulnerable, he’s not always great in the rain, he’s not always brilliant under pressure or in traffic. If he was perfect he’d be boring. But he’s not – and that, given the greatness of his achievements, makes him far more interesting.

Jacques Villeneuve’s comments that Schumi will be forgotten are clearly wide of the mark under any plain interpretation, although the extended direction of the comments – that he may not always be remembered perhaps for the best reasons – is probably less contentious.
JV was of course on the receiving end of one of Schumi’s more famous dastardly and desperate split-second ‘dirty tactics’, and is probably better placed than many to give a first hand account of the person we’re dealing with.

Michael Schumacher actually retained something of a dignified silence over Villeneuve’s pot-shots, and probably isn’t too worried by what JV thinks of him: when all’s said and done, for whatever reasons (and they will include several impressive world records) he will be remembered far longer than JV in any case.
He’s probably also aware that those achievements will be forever bundled with controversy and mixed feelings. And he probably won’t be in the slightest bit bothered by that either. To Schumacher winning has always been everything – the rest is mere static.

Some hardened Schumacher fans go ape if you suggest that his sportsmanship may be less than perfect (suggesting they’re either forgiving to a fault, a bit thick, or possibly registered blind) – and especially if you bring up driving into people or walls for tactical advantage.
Why so defensive? Surely you have to admire the ambition and psychology of someone who can think at that scale and at that speed? It may be dirty, and it may be cheating sometimes, but it’s an astonishing gift nonetheless; and let’s not forget how drab this season was until Monaco…

And so here we are; looking back at a 15-year F1 career laden with many amazing records: 7 World Championships, 90 GP wins, 153 podiums, 68 poles, 1354 career points, 22 hat-tricks of pole, fastest lap and victory – which makes comparisons with drivers of a different age redundant.

Schumacher is a creature of a very modern F1; something reflected in his achievements as much as his weaknesses. However much you love or loathe him, you cannot deny that a huge talent is departing – one which has almost single-handedly defined an F1 era.

(*This piece was originally screened on TV following the announcement of Schumacher’s retirement)
(*Career stats correct after Italian GP – 10/09/06)