• Schumacher to retire after torrid three year return
• Some suggestion driver will stay involved with Mercedes
Finally the paddock in Japan found a new topic of conversation yesterday, albeit only tangentially removed from Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes, when Michael Schumacher announced his second and surely final, retirement from the sport. Of course it could not last, given it is Hamilton who is taking his seat for 2013.
Somewhat inevitably then, the two had reason to make reference to one another but while Schumacher was non-committal about his future plans, Hamilton issued a firm denial that the German would have anything to do with the Mercedes F1 team next year, contradicting an earlier suggestion by team principal, Ross Brawn.
Mercedes had been in negotiations with Schumacher regarding a new contract but it appears the team required a longer commitment than the driver was willing to make, but Brawn also admitted that: “Someone of the calibre of Lewis does not become available every day. That was an important factor that came into it”. The suggestion is that Schumacher probably had less say in the decision than may have been expected. He retires at the end of this season after a torrid three year return, which generated much excitement but failed to make a return, thus far having yielded only one podium in Valencia this year and one pole, in Monaco, also this year but a drive that he could not capitalise on, having already been given a five-place grid penalty.
There was scepticism over whether the 43-year-old driver could ever match his peak when he announced a return to F1, having originally retired in 2006 but also excitement at seeing just whether the old master could pull it off. It was not to be. His Mercedes has struggled to come close to the front runners throughout the three years and despite his pairing with Brawn, with whom he rebuilt Ferrari, they have failed to do the same the second time around. Technically brilliant, confident and dominant in his pomp, battling in the midfield has not been kind to his reputation and while he has been unlucky – not least losing a wheel nut in China earlier this year while second to team-mate Nico Rosberg, who went on to win – he has also made mistakes that were previously unthinkable. Planting his car in the wall in the wet during free practice in Germany, also this year, appeared to be as baffling to him as it was to onlookers and it came as little surprise then, that after Hamilton had signed for Mercedes, he has chosen to call time on what remains, even with its unsuccessful coda, an extraordinary career.
Schumacher said of his future plans: “I have options, and you know some of the options, but we will decide when the time is there.” Brawn, who described Schumacher as the “greatest racing driver of this century,” had suggested to the BBC last week that there may be a role for him at Mercedes. “We would like him to stay involved with Mercedes,” he said. “There is a lot of things he can contribute – perhaps on the racing car side but certainly on the road car side and I think that is something he would enjoy a great deal.”
When asked whether he was expecting Schumacher to be working for the team next year, Hamilton issued an emphatic: “no”. The British driver expects a completely clean break within the team and that if Schumacher is to continue working with Mercedes it will only be with their road car division.
While acknowledging Schumacher’s skill Hamilton also believes he will reap the rewards from the development the seven-times world champion has brought to Mercedes over the previous three years. The transition, he hoped, would be smooth. “When you come in, just like when I came in here [McLaren], there were drivers that work very hard to steer the guys in one direction. My driving style is very similar to his so hopefully it will be seamless,” he said.
Brawn too believed Schumacher’s contribution might be crucial to the car moving forward. “I think Michael brought a lot to the team in this second period that people don’t see,” he said. “There was a huge contribution behind the scenes.”
Schumacher, in turn, suggested that Hamilton had played a part in the decision making process leading to his retirement. “I was in the picture when the negotiation was going on, but I didn’t want to decide; I was not sure,” he said. “Sometimes in life your destiny will develop by itself, without any hard feelings and without any regrets. We all know Lewis is one of the best drivers we have around and I cross fingers that we will have a successful future.”
Hamilton also acknowledged that Schumacher was the “best” at sorting out a team and moving it forward, a key factor that unites the outgoing German and next year’s new boy – it will be central to his role at Mercedes next year as it was for Schumacher.
His current team-mate, Jenson Button, believed it was right for Schumacher to return to the track despite the lack of results returned.
“His second career wasn’t as good as his first one but he had a lot of fun,” he said. “You’re a long time retired. He felt quite young and felt that he still had it in him, it was the right thing for him to come back if he felt like that, he loves racing obviously still does, so it was obviously the right thing for him.”
“It’s sad that he’s leaving because it’s nice having so many world champions in the sport. And he is a big name he is the biggest name in motorsport history, it’s always been good for the sport him being here.”