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Know when to fold 'em

26th September 2012

Traffic. Traffic. Right turn ahead. Right turn ahead. Brake. Brake. BRAKE!

Poor old Michael is at it again. Smashing and crashing his way to his second – and surely final – F1 retirement.

His Singapore Grand Prix shunt into the Toro Rosso of Jean-Éric Vergne is the latest incident in the German’s sorry decline to F1 also-ran.  

Far be it for me to suggest how to run an F1 team but perhaps, come the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next week, the Mercedes mechanics would do well to fit one of the GPS navigation devices now being advertised by Michael Schumacher as part of his £5.5 million deal with a Chinese company.

It really is getting beyond a joke now, something that surely even the most blinkered Schumacher fan must admit.

Very soon reality will bite and the penny – if it hasn’t already – will drop. It’s time for the 43-year old to step out of an F1 cockpit for the very last time.

Sporting comebacks rarely meet with any real success and Schumacher’s three-year second F1 career will not work the statisticians overly hard.

One podium and one pole position in almost three years of racing for a factory team is a poor show.

Third place at this year’s European Grand Prix is the highlight; Monaco’s pole position was certainly a good lap, but all in vain since a five-place grid penalty then took effect as punishment for Schumacher’s rear-end assault on Bruno Senna’s Williams in the previous race.

For as long as he’s been racing in F1 Schumacher, perhaps like no one before or since, splits opinion in so many ways – some love him, some loathe him.

In the F1 paddock it’s a fact that – rightly or wrongly – many believe that Schumacher has rarely raced in a ‘legal’ F1 car.

One could put this down to a number of factors, but it’s hardly surprising given the amount of controversy surrounding so many of the cars he’s driven. Benetton’s alleged launch and traction control, and the not-thick-enough undercar ‘plank’; Ferrari’s bespoke Bridgestone tyres (suspected of having grip and endurance levels way beyond those of Schumacher’s rivals, and of being wider than ‘allowed’ at the front), the infamous 5mm bargeboard tolerance case at Malaysia in 1999… the list goes on and on.

Forgetting for one moment the ‘legality’ of Schumacher’s cars, one could focus on his driving record. An unrivalled level of achievement with untold wins, podiums, pole positions, etc, etc. But with that success comes a bucket load of trouble: driving into Damon Hill at Adelaide in 1994; side-swiping Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997; barging Heinz-Harald Frentzen off the track during the 1998 Canadian race; parking his car on the racing line at Rascasse (so as to ruin Fernando Alonso’s likely pole-winning time) during qualifying at Monaco in 2006; and forcing his erstwhile Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello almost into the pit wall during the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix. I could go on.

And now in 2012 two novice-like shunts where the German has simply failed to judge the speed of his own car relative to those ahead of him, on this latest occasion resulting in a 10-place grid drop for Suzuka.

Of course, all around the world Schumacher is worshipped as a sporting great and his marketing power is the main reason Mercedes employs him. But just as the world is waking up to the mountain of evidence against seven-times Tour de France ‘winner’ Lance Armstrong, the seven-times F1 world champion cannot be surprised by those who doubt the legality of what went before.

His legion of fans will not hear any of it, of course, insisting that all is fair in the sporting arena and that Schumacher simply possessed more skill, hunger and derring-do than his rivals. Many still blindly insist he still does…

Current favourite excuse for the wretched performances is that Schumacher is suffering a run of extreme bad luck in his Mercedes racer. Unlucky? No-one said he was lucky when, back in the day, he enjoyed an unrivalled run of reliability. So don’t tell me the opposite is now the case.

The facts are plain to see: with every race his statistics and legacy get weaker while the doubts about his ability during his heyday grow stronger.

Like a gambler stumbling from table to table, Schumacher is chasing a losing streak desperately hoping the dice will roll his way. The shame – for him – is that the losses are mounting up fast with no signs of a change in fortune anytime soon.

It’s time – high time – to cash in his few remaining chips, announce a dignified exit and leave the F1 casino.

For good…

Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix by clicking here.

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