Written on Schumacher’s first retirement.
We should not expect those upon whom the Gods have smiled to be anything other than peculiar in both its meanings. Those blessed with both the talent and the determination to exploit it, will live extraordinary lives and will both shape their strange worlds and be shaped by them. But it is surprising that of a list of geniuses at work in sport today (or very recently), say Woods, Warne, McCoy, Taylor, O’Sullivan, Zidane, Rossi, Federer, Armstrong and Navratilova, only Federer would lie wholly outside descriptors such as eccentric, obsessive, even pathological. And Schumacher fits in the list and descriptors four square.
Of course, this wasn’t all Schumacher’s fault. The technology and the mind-boggling volume of information available to the engineers meant that the driver’s input diminished, although it always grated that Michael reserved his greatest moments on the track for the lap when his main rival was changing tyres and re-fuelling or for qualifying on pole. Somehow Rossi manages to demonstrate his genius from grid to flag week after week.
But the biggest charge to level at Michael is his reluctance to see a moral dimension to sport, made more disappointing by his central role in the aftermath of the dreadful weekend at Imola that claimed Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. Senna’s death was a “Diana moment” for sport – the shock was terrible, the landscape in the days after completely unknown and the sense of loss curiously personal – (for many of us, the Diana death was as nothing compared to John and Ayrton). Michael was stared at and exhorted to provide leadership and, for a while, did, but then the charge sheet started to build with the cynical order to the immensely likeable and loyal Rubens Barrichello to donate a race for the good of his title challenge the last straw for me. Why bother to watch when it’s a back room fix up?
So farewell Michael, and I hope the Gods that Senna was so convinced were protecting him, have not been riled and you get through the next three races without incident. But I hope Alonso holds on and wins a second title – I don’t resent you your haul, but it was often soulless, and sometimes ugly.