Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Farewell and thank you

My childhood officially ended last Monday at approximately 1.30am local time here in New Zealand when having watched Michael Schumacher win his 90th Grand prix, my boyhood hero and idol of the last 13 years announced his retirement from the sport at the end of the year. Every since I've had a strange empty feeling that I just can't shake off.

I can't say with certainty why motorsport, in particular Formula 1, evolved from mere cars going round in cricles, to defeat all other sports and capture my imagination as strongly as it has, but I am sure that Schumacher is a primary reason. For me his performances against the superior Williams and Mclarens in the mid to late 1990s were magical. This was my favourite period of Schumachers career, although his most successful would come in the new millenium. I wish I had the words to explain how it felt to watch this man work miracles as the under-dog every forthnight. His performances in the wet were simply remarkable. When he finally sat into the best car he began an unprecedented period of domination which ultimately resulted in a series of rule changes to make the sport competitive again. He has been the Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Roger Federer of motorsport for the last 10 years.(Indeed Tiger said today that Schumacher is the greatest active athlete on the planet)

Schumacher is the most successful driver in the sports history holding all but the most inane records. He is also its most divisive driver. The phrase "you either love him or hate him" has never fitted more perfectly. With a number of controvercial moments such as championship deciding collisions in 94 and 97 and the "parking" incident in Monaco this year, it is fair to say that he is the hero to the minority of fans. However Schumacher's mere presence got the pulse racing and a cursory glance at the memorable moments in the sport over the last 10-15 years will reveal Schumacher involved in well over 90%.

Schumacher has been the sports yard stick for longer than any driver in its history. In 15 seasons in the sport he has failed to finish in the top 3 of the championship on only 2 occassions; once during his second full season in 1993 when he finished fourth, and again in 1999 when he missed 6 races due to a broken leg and finished 5th. He has also won at least one race in each of the the full championship seasons he has competed in. A remarkable level of consistency in a world where every thousand of a second is vital. During that time he has won the World Championship or been part of the championship battle in 10 of those seasons. His absence will leave a huge hole in the sport and I can't imagine how strange it will feel to watch races without Schumacher.

It has been a privilege to watch this great man compete and although I am saddened by his announcement I wish him all the best in his retirement. His example has sparked a passion and obsession in me that anyone who knows me, including Simon, can attest to and will remain with me for life. For that, I thank him.

I have searched Youtube for a fitting video tribute to the man. These two videos are my favourites, a great example of the excitement he generated and his ability against the odds. They are clips from the qualifiying session of the 1996 Monaco Grand prix where Schumacher, driving a pig of a Ferrari,(described by Eddie Irvine, his team mate as "An accident waiting to happen") goes for pole position around the ultimate drivers circuit against the vastly superior Williams (Commentary by Ben Edwards and Jon Watson).

Part 1

Part 2

1 comment:

Roy ( said...

Great videos - it will seem very strange when he does leave.