Arriving at the track he cuts a lonely figure these days, often unmolested by autograph-hungry fans, briefcase in hand, dark sunglasses permanently in place and cap pulled hard down. The seven-times world champion is not the draw he once was.
Michael Schumacher’s second F1 career is now one season and six races old. No pole positions, no podium places – it’s not how he imagined it, I’m sure.
When über-successful sportsmen retire for the first time, at the right time, fans and admirers alike are almost always united in their feelings of respect and praise for an icon who has faced the painful yet inevitable consequence of age and hung up their kit bag.
Schumacher’s 2006 exit was greeted in just such a fashion.
Fast forward to now and feelings are the polar opposite.
Watching Michael this season and last has been an education in the folly of sporting comebacks.
First of all there’s his demeanour in the paddock. Nearly always the last to arrive for photo calls (seemingly so as to enhance his superiority), he indulges in overly chummy back-slaps and high-fives with drivers half his age – most of whom no doubt see the 42-year old as akin to the oldest swinger in town. And then there’s his driving.
At the zenith of his career Schumacher in a Ferrari was an awesome sight to behold. Putting to the back of one’s mind the continuous allegations of not-quite-legal cars, one was often in awe of his ability to destroy with utter ruthlessness all others who dared to race.
Sheer brilliance is an apt description of a number of his victories, none more so than at the Hungaroring in 1998. To see him react to Ross Brawn’s tactical masterstroke by thrashing his Ferrari at qualifying pace for lap after lap will always be a grand prix I’ll remember as one of the most frightening demonstrations of a driver at the height of his powers.
It’s all so different now.
Looking for all the world like an over-driving has-been, he’s a little sad to behold. If there’s a car running wide, kicking up the dirt, taking to the escape road, or arriving in the pits by way of a pick-up truck, likelihood is it’ll be Mercedes #7.
Word has it that within Mercedes GP two rival factions have evolved: the German hierarchy, entrenched in their belief that Schumacher will deliver, and a (predominantly) English posse who see Nico Rosberg as the team’s main man.
Who knows? Maybe it’ll all come good some time soon for the man from Kerpen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Like that of a gambler chasing a losing streak or a punch-drunk boxer who steadfastly refuses to quit, Schumacher’s every mid-grid start and lowly points-scoring finish inexorably erodes a legacy he worked so hard to create.
A seven-times world champion really should’ve known better.