The trouble with the Internet is Google.
Unlike the good ol’ days of newspapers, when people who read your stuff were aware of your body of work and you didn’t have to explain every last thing you put in your column, people these days type — say — the words “Michael Schumacher” into their Google search window and lo and behold one of my blogs of recent days pops up in which I say the old guy should call it a day and people go and get the wrong impression.
They don't think I like him.
But the truth is, I am a huge Michael Schumacher fan. I admire his commitment, his determination, his drive. All F1 drivers have these qualities, of course, but some more than others. In my books, Schumacher is tops in those departments.
Ever since I was a kid, I have admired artists, be it Willy Mosconi shootin’ a little straight pool, or Vladimir Horowitz playing the Warsaw Concerto on the piana, or Christopher Plummer being King Lear, or Michael Schumacher steering a Ferrari through Eau Rouge — particularly the latter.
Although he was the greatest driver of his generation, and maybe of all time, I howled along with many people when he won his first championship. It appeared as if he deliberately drove in front of Damon Hill in Australia in 1994 to cause a collision that put them both out of the race. We know he drove into Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 in much the same way he drove into Hill. He very nearly put his old pal Rubens Barrichello into the wall at Hungary in 2010 while “defending” his position. And, of course, there was the parking of his Ferrari in the middle of the track at Monaco in 2006 to prevent Fernando Alonso from going faster in qualifying and the manipulation of the finishing order in Austria and the United States in 2002.
But the positives over the years have far outweighed the negatives. On the morning of his last race before his first retirement, I was on CBC television talking about what a wonderful athlete and champion he'd been.
I particularly liked how he went to Ferrari in 1996 and convinced his old Benetton pals Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn to sign on and proceeded to turn the legendary Italian marque into one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport. He (and they) won five consecutive championships between 2000 and 2004. And with one or two exceptions, he holds all of the F1 records and he probably always will.
I always felt, just like a certain Canadian prime minister at the end of the 1970s, that Schumacher was hounded into retirement, that perhaps he wasn’t as convinced as he said he was that it was a good idea to quit. But Ferrari put out a release that said he would be finished at the end of the 2006 season and that he would continue as an assistant to then-team CEO Jean Todt, so he stepped down. I thought — wishful thinking, perhaps? — that he was being groomed to take over the running of the team.
When Felipe Massa was injured in 2009, there was talk he would take over for the rest of the season and although that didn’t happen, the very fact that he was considering a return to combat suggested to me he was getting itchy feet and a comeback wasn’t out of the question. In 2010, he joined Mercedes. I was most pleased.
I've been cheering for hm ever since. I was cheering for him, in particular, to get a podium at the Canadian GP in 2011 and he ran second or third the whole race, slipping to fourth in the final laps.
I have written about this affection I have for the old campaigner many times.
But this year, I started to get worried. I couldn't put my finger on it but I got the feeling there was something that wasn't quite right. Yes, he still was fast enough to win the pole at Monaco but he was penalized five positions for smashing into the back of Bruno Senna’s car at the previous race.
This is what I wrote at the time:
“Michael Schumacher was penalized five grid positions at Monaco for running into the back of Bruno Senna and ending both their races.
“As is the case on the street, the onus is on the driver following to avoid a collision. Schumacher did not do that and deserves the penalty – probably.
“But Schumacher said Senna changed his line twice – and he did. Watch the replay again, if you can, and I think you would agree that Senna broke the rules. I know, the stewards ruled otherwise, but they are not always right (as we all know).
“But here’s what I think really happened: Schumacher got confused. I don’t think that accident would have happened five years ago. I know it wouldn’t have happened when Schumacher was a kid of 25.
”Why? Because his eyesight would have been better then and his brain would have reacted faster and his reflexes would have been just that much quicker.
“Yes, he still has the desire and he’s still fast when he’s out there all by himself. But that world, the world of million-miles-an-hour F1 racing, is going way too fast for a guy his age and it’s time to call it a day.”
Then we had the situation at Singapore and it happened again — he was late on the brakes and crashed into the car in front, in that case Jean Eric Vergne.
I don’t want him to hurt himself. And I want him to retire for good, with dignity. I do not want him to go out looking like a fool.
Yes, I have suggested that there could be a Farewell Michael, Tour - with Ferrari. He could sign a one-year contract to partner Fernando Alonso and then retire from the team he will always be identified with.
But that’s not likely in the cards. So he should do everybody, but particularly himself, a major favour by standing up one of these days and saying he’s had a wonderful life in F1 and a wonderful career but it’s time to move on.
When that happens, I’ll be happy and sad at the same time.
But it will be for the best.