Monday, October 23, 2006

Will there be another Schumi ?

Michael Schumacher .. fondly known as Schumi joins the bandwagon of superstars who have hung up their boots. What a career!

As a teenager who joined the ranks of the fledging Jordan team in the early 90's, no one would have given him a chance especially with Prost, Mansell, Senna and Hill as his contemporaries. There is an interesting legend to Schumi's big break as a Jordan driver but that can easily be searched on the Internet. Schumi didnt take long to make on impression, not only on the F1 fans around the globe but also his peers. With Mansell and Prost in the twilight of their careers, Schumi stepped on the pedal bigtime.

Such was his billing that he was signed by Benetton in 1992. Though his time at Benetton was marred by allegations of cheating, he managed to stay clear of controversy and guided Benetton to their first constructors championship in 1995. The aura surrounding Schumi was such that even his lesser known team mates, Martin Brundle and Johnny Herbert, seemed to draw inspiration and perform well. By this time, the Motorsport world had been rocked by Ayrton Senna's death at San Marino.

His move to Ferrari in 1996 was met with skepticism globally. Ferrari was inferior in every respect. It was a bold move to leave a champion team and embrace a team fighting the devils within them. He had a tough time getting used to the feel of the new car. But the time spent in getting used to Ferrari was utilised by his rivals at Williams (read Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve). Villeneuve went on to win in 1997. Damon Hill had retired and it was a 2 way battle between Villeneuve and Schumi for the 1998 title. A controversial over taking manoeuvre on Villeneuve resulted in him being docked championship points. David Coulthard, driving for Williams won the championship as Villeneuve hit a bad patch in form.

1999 was another forgettable year for Schumi. He was leading the championship till the British Grand Prix but met with an accident and was sidelined for around 7 races. Mika Hakkinen by then had lapped up the championship.

Thats when Schumi put his head down and piled up championship after championship starting with the one in 2000. I guess the 2000 season was the closest of the 5 championship seasons for Schumi in the new decade. Hakkinen took a sabbatical after that. Schumi had a new team mate in the effervescent Rubens Barrichello. Together, they stitched a memorable liason striking gold at whatever they did. The only blemish was when Rubens allowed Schumi to overtake him on the final lap of one of the races. That was seen as a black mark on Ferrari for the remainder of the season. Anyway, Ferrari swept aside their competition easily. Schumi was a 7 time F1 champion by now and had already broken records of Fangio, Senna and Mansell. Most world titles, highest number of podium finishes, maximum number of pole positions and sundry.

By the time the qualifying format was changed alongwith some other rules, it was primarily seen as a means of regenerating the lost interest in F1 because Ferrari was dominating every race, every season. Due to these changes, other teams became competitive at the cost of Ferrari. With newer drivers leading the charge, Schumi and Ferrari were at the receiving end in the 2005 season. Ferrari were laid aside by Renault and Mclaren and even BAR wasnt far behind. Alonso had become the toast of F1 and Schumi was left languishing in the dark.

With a new car in 2006 and some more rules changed, Ferrari was back to being competitive. Rubens made way for Felipe Massa as Schumi's team mate and Ferrari turned the championship upside down midway through the season. With 2 races to go, Alonso and Schumi were locked with the same number of points but Schumi was ahead on account of winning one more race. But engine failure at the penultimate race at Japan squashed his championship dreams. He finished 4th in his final Grand Prix at Sao Paulo yesterday. Even though he lost the championship, he won the hearts of millions of sports fanatics around the world.

I bet there wont be one dry eye around the F1 community. Its tough being Schumi's team mate but look at how well the Schumi effect rubbed off on his team mates. Martin Brundle and Johnny Herbert at Benetton followed by Eddie Irvine, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa at Ferrari. All these guys made it big being in the shadow of the great man.

I guess he had more fans in Italy as compared to his home country Germany considering Ferrari's home country is Italy. The tufosi made sure they followed him everywhere. What a sportsman. He will be missed next March onwards and the task of breaking his records will now fall onto some other emerging superstars. I have been privileged to know the sport of F1 because of Schumi. Those Sunday evenings with tea and biscuits and a race to look forward to, will never be the same again. I guess it wont take long for Schumi to be knighted. Cheers Sir ... !!

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