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Michael Schumacher - A diminishing legacy

The German's return to the sport has failed to contribte to an astounding legacy. As it progresses, it threatens to belittle his credibility as a candidate for 'best driver of all time'.
Monday, June 18, 2012

Born in Adelaide during its 11 year long era of hosting Formula One, Jacob Polychronis has admired the sport his whole life. Along with his brother Gabriel, they share their educated opinion via articles and their podcast, F1 News & Views Podcast.

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June 16, 2012 (F1plus / Jacob Polychronis).- Michael Schumacher holds an array of Formula One records. Some of these include the most wins, wins in a season, pole positions, fastest laps, podium finishes, career points and of course, most world championships. In many respects, he is statistically the greatest driver in Formula One history.

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If I had the chance to ask Michael Schumacher one question today, many would immediately spring to mind.
What were you thinking as you collided with Damon Hill in Adelaide, 1994? How would have you approached the ’97 season decider in Jerez differently today?

Although, only one question currently distinguishes itself as the most baffling at this point in time.

With a career that was so immaculate prior to 2010 (at least statistically), why risk tarnishing it?

With each race that stems further into a 295 race career, Schumacher is doing exactly this; tarnishing a legacy. By continuing with his F1 resurrection, no longer will he be seen as the ruthless 7-time world champion who conquered the sport, forcing it to make rule changes to curb his dominance. Instead, Schumacher is more at risk of being remembered as a has-been; a has-been who has returned, fuelled by greed in an attempt to quench his thirst for one last taste of glory. After signing a three-year contract with Mercedes GP in 2010, it was the third year which was envisaged as the fruition of Schumacher’s successful comeback. Alternatively, it’s the third year which has been the culmination of its failure.

Many will argue that the failure to achieve success in the third season of Schumacher’s comeback can be wholly imputed to wretched luck. Schumacher has only managed to complete 2 of the 7 races so far in the 2012 season, although admittedly, most of these retirements have been unavoidable. So far he has suffered issues with fuel pressure, gearbox, a loose wheel and a jammed RFA (DRS). Only one of his retirements can be attributed to driver error as he ran into the back of Bruno Senna under braking in Catalunya. Further contributing to this horror spell was a 5-spot grid penalty which Schumacher was forced to serve after claiming pole position in Monaco. For those who believe in fate, it would seem that it is trying to tell him that this just wasn’t meant to be.

While this run of luck has been nothing short of disastrous, Schumacher has nonetheless failed to display any sort of dominance over his German counterpart, Nico Rosberg, throughout this three year stint. No matter how you dissect and analyse the current season, these are the cold hard facts: In 2012, Rosberg has out-raced Schumacher six times out of seven, out-qualified four out of seven, and currently leads his team mate by a staggering 65 points. Perhaps most notably, Rosberg has also claimed a race victory which was the first for the team since it was known as Brawn GP. Schumacher on the other hand has finished no higher than 10th. The only real glimpse of the old Michael Schumacher was on display during qualifying in Monaco where he went fastest for the first time in his comeback.

As Rosberg has exemplified, the Mercedes F1 W03 is indeed capable of producing a Grand Prix victory. If all things align, including his luck, do not be surprised to see Schumacher on the top step of the podium for one last time. One win from three seasons is now very much a best case scenario for the German though, and would be an extremely special occasion. It’s still a far cry from Alain Prost who received a maximum return from his comeback in’93.

Despite holding just about every significant record which Formula One has to offer, Schumacher is still widely regarded to only be one of the best drivers of all time. The title of ‘best driver of all time’ is one that tends to be held in reserve for the legendary Ayrton Senna. It is believable that Senna would have likely claimed the driver’s title in ‘94 which his less experienced team-mate, Damon Hill, only lost by a solitary point. Also, based on similar rational, Senna would have captured Williams’ titles of ’96 and ’97. This would have left Senna and Schumacher with 6 titles a piece and would have brought many of Schumacher’s current records into doubt.

Schumacher is likely aware of this common philosophy, however, whether or not he holds feelings of animosity towards it is uncertain. Schumacher will claim desire to drive for a Mercedes works team and collaborating with Ross Brawn again as reasons one and two for his comeback. It is entirely possible that adding to his statistics and attempting to become the undoubted best driver of all time are three and four.

After assessing his comeback, one final question occurs: Is Schumacher able to eliminate the doubt that he is indeed the greatest to have ever competed in the sport?

The answer is no.

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