Arguably the best Formula One driver of all time, he is described by the official web-site as “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”. And so when the seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher retired in 2006, many proclaimed with finality that it marked the end of an illustrious career.
So, when he announced that he was making a comeback by signing a 3-year contract with Mercedes in 2009, the media, public and racing fraternity got palpably excited at the prospect of watching the maestro perform one more time, very much like a delayed encore after the superb performance.
But..four races into the season, Schumacher’s F1 return is looking more like a big anti-climax. Evidence seems to be accumulating that he is no longer the formidable driver he once was. To quote the Associated Press, “it is beginning dangerously to look like the vain folly of a middle-aged man who got bored in retirement and who missed racing’s adrenaline buzz but who also made the mistake of kidding himself that he still has that old magic.”
In the four races so far, he finished in the points only in the first race at Bahrain, finishing 7th. After that, in Australia he did 10th, finished unclassified in Malaysia and ending up 10th again in China. And to add insult to injury, his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, 17 years his junior, driving an identical car, has ended up on the podium twice already. This surely is clear-cut evidence of Schumacher’s decline. Further evidence: in China, while his team-mate Rosberg stayed throughout on dry tyres, Schumacher had his tyres changed twice to suit the weather (indecision?) and was about to do it again when his engineers radioed him to remind that Rosberg had not even changed tyres to suit the weather.
Now, at 41, Schumacher may have to realise that Father Time waits for no man. Body reflexes get slower, muscles get more easily fatigued and the adrenaline ‘high’ may not produce the same boost as in a younger man. This is the reason why participants in other sports retire early – a good example being swimming, when the power-body mass ratio reaches its peak in the mid-twenties.
Added to this are the responsibilities of family life and parenthood. With 2 children (13 and 11 years old), the appetite for risks must be waning as well. Schumacher’s sure touch of the wheel, controlled love of risk and steady nerves once made him so hard to beat. Now, he looks quite ordinary. Said Louis Hamilton, when asked how it felt to have overtaken the world champion recently in China, he matter-of-factly replied “It’s just as exciting as racing with any other driver” .
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