Time for Schumacher to quit

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Three Formula One seasons ago Michael Schumacher stood at the Ferrari testing grounds at Maranello and told team principal Jean Todd that he had made up his mind about quitting the most glamourous job in all of motorsports.

The two shook hands and agreed that Schumacher would stay on with the fabled Prancing Pony outfit as a test driver or in whatever other management capacity he wished to pursue.

After all, Schumacher deserved as much.

He had all but single-handedly rescued the Italian sports car manufacturer from the depths of mediocrity it had sunk into after the death of Canadian superstar Gilles Villeneuve during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

In the 18 years between Villeneuve’s tragic death and Schumacher’s first of five consecutive world championships in 2000, Ferrari was not much more than an also ran, continually being bested by the likes of Williams, McLaren and Benetton.

But with Schumacher’s signing, Ferrari began a dominance like few sports had ever seen and likely would never see again.

The native of Hürth, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany was simply without equal on any track he chose to drive.

He was to motor racing what another Michael — Jordan — was to basketball.

When Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls as their first draft choice out of North Carolina in 1984 the team had averaged a measly 30 wins per 80-game season in the previous six years.

In the next 14 seasons with Jordan in the lineup the Bulls averaged 53 wins a season and won six National Basketball Association championships, creating one of the greatest dynasties that sport has ever produced.

At the end of their first careers Jordan and Schumacher were deservedly lauded as the greatest ever to participate in their respective sports.

Both, however, were lured back into the spotlight within three seasons of officially ending their playing days in their primary sports.

Jordan unsuccessfully tried baseball, before returning to the Bull for the 1995-96 season.

The years away from the hard court had taken its toll, and Jordan, while still occasionally spectacular could no longer take control and will his way to win.

He ended is career coming off the bench for the Washington Wizards, where he was a part-owner of the team.

Jordan eventually gave up trying to beat back father time and left the floor to take up management duties.

Now in the summer of his comeback in F-1, Schumacher is being urged to do the same before he, too, is relegated to being remembered, not for his never-to-be-equalled seven world championships and 91 Grand Prix victories, but as a driver who couldn’t even beat his neophyte Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

That Schumacher has reached that point in his historic career to call it quits for good became embarrassingly apparent in the final laps of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim this past Sunday.

Desperate to earn the last point available on the grid that day Schumacher steered his Mercedes GP into his former Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello in an attempt to keep the Brazilian, now driving for Williams, from passing him on the front stretch for 10th place.

Not that such a dangerous move was foreign to Schumacher — he pulled similar stunts while racing with the championship on the line against the likes of Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Fernando Alonso — but there was no championship in sight this season, nor will there ever be one again.

Barrichello called the move a “death wish”.

“If he wants to go to heaven, in the event he is going to heaven, I don’t want to go before him,” Barrichello said. “Thank God, I was lucky the wall finished where it did because I was millimetres from it.”

The incident should have been the wake up call Schumacher needed to realize his dream of winning an eighth championship is over. Even on his own team he has been badly outperformed by Rosberg and he finds himself an astounding 56 points back of the young German as F-1 goes in to its three-week summer break.

But recent comments show that the arrogance that defined Schumacher in his glory days may now be the contributing factor that makes him think he still has in it in him to win.

While admitting this season has not gone well he refuses to acknowledge that all is lost.

“To be out three years and start where I finished in a car that doesn’t allow me to do it, is unrealistic,” Schumacher said. “I will take my time. I enjoy most of it, this process. There are ups and downs and that is part of motor sport. I am very confident I can achieve it, which is what I am focusing for.”

The unrealistic part is that he won’t accept what time did to Jordan and other great athletes. And if proving his belief means trying to de-capitate a Rubens Barrichello along the way, too bad.

There is an anecdote making the rounds that paints the most accurate picture of Schumacher and his stubbornness to accept anything less that winning again in his career. It was written by England’s Daily Mail newspaper columnist Jonathan McEvoy.

“The only thing eating up Michael Schumacher is the only thing that has ever eaten up Michael Schumacher.

“It is the pathological need to win by fair means or foul. It is the essence of the flawed genius that took him to seven world titles, and if sportsmanship was left at the trackside then so be it.

“I remember playing against him in something as inconsequential as a beach (soccer) match with the Spanish national team a few years back. He scored a handball goal so blatant it would have embarrassed Maradona. Schumacher did not flicker. The ball had crossed the line. He had scored it. It was OK. He celebrated.”

That unfettered philosophy that the end justifies the means disrespects his record as the winningest driver in the history of Formula One. And it will taint those achievements even further if he doesn’t do the right thing and quit, if not now, at least at the end of the current season.

This is not an isolated opinion, either.

The august Times of London editorialized on the same thing this past week. Let their’s be the last words on the matter:

“Unshakeable self-belief is a central characteristic of great sportsmen,” reads the editorial. “They do not believe they will succeed: they know it.

“But there comes a moment in every career when the self-belief no longer matches reality. Self-belief, previously the sportsman’s strongest suit, becomes a form of madness from which he needs to be protected.”

“Schumacher’s comeback belongs to that sad tradition of men who do not know when to stop. But there is one difference. A punch-drunk boxer risks only his own life. A racing driver, as Barrichello will attest, also risks the lives of others.”

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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