Last weekend was one of reflection, affection and nostalgia for Michael Schumacher. Circuit de is one of fond memories for the German. As a precarious talent, he was handed his F1 debut here by Eddie Jordan in 1991 to replace the imprisoned Bertrand Gachot, with the Frenchman being sentenced to two months in jail after an altercation with a taxi driver.
A year later for Benetton he notched up his first victory in the premier class, beating the Williams duo of Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. In fourth position for the majority of the race, Schumacher pushed hard once the rain came, setting a new lap record, and managed to pass Mansell for the lead at the end of the race, aided by the Brits troubled exhaust.
Last weekend was also one of pride for the seven time world champion. Not only was this his 300th Grand Prix weekend, but he was also made an honorary citizen of Spa to commemorate his anniversary; a worthy accolade for the six time Belgian GP winner.
Pre-race weekend Schumacher spoke about how special the track in the Ardennes forest is to him "It all happened to me here in Spa. First race, first victory, some beautiful victories and interesting races and in 2004 the seventh title, last year the 20th anniversary and now number 300 and being honoured. So it's a full package. Spa has always meant a lot to me. I always called it my living room - now I can officially call it my living room." During the drivers parade he still commanded the largest cheer from the diverse crowd. Yet since his return in 2010, it is fair to say the legend has struggled to replicate his former greatness.
His partnership with Mercedes has been thoroughly disappointing, not only from a personal aspect but from the team. Since the new ownership, after the German manufacturer purchased Brawn GP, they have not been able to compete frequently enough with the top teams. But when they have, it has been Schumacher's compatriot Nico Rosberg who has been the commanding driver. Rosberg scored three podiums in 2010, compared to Schumacher's best position of fourth, which he recorded on three occasions. The following season was forgettable for the whole team, with Schumacher scoring the best result in fourth in Canada, but still finishing behind his teammate in the final drivers' standings in eight.
Following the trend, Mercedes have not been able to provide the perfect car for the Germans in 2012, despite pre-season optimism that they could be the dark horses. Generally the car has been sharp in qualifying, however still underachieving, but come race day they struggle to convert this to big points. The double DRS concept caused panic elsewhere, but a car which seems to struggle for grip, along with reliability issues for Schumacher, has seen the team gradually stall as the season has enhanced.
Positively, Schumacher has scored his first podium since his return this season at the European Grand Prix, but he has been overshadowed once more by Rosberg who recorded the team's first victory since 1955 in China, displacing the great Juan Manuel Fangio as the last winner for the Silver Arrows.
It is an old adage that you should never return and the Schumacher case augments this statement. His reputation can never be tarnished, as statistically he is the greatest driver of all time. Records such as: 91 wins, 155 podiums, 1,522 career points, 68 pole positions and 77 fastest laps demonstrate just how dominant he has been since his introduction to the premier class 21 years ago. The only noticeable record in his sights would be one of old time Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who stands as the man with the most races at 326, the last being at Brazil in 2011.
Schumacher's future is set to be resolved in the impending months. His contract expires at the end of the season but Mercedes have made it clear there is an option on the table for an extension. At 43, the Hürth born man knows his career is curtailing, and perhaps the season finale at São Paulo in November is the perfect opportunity for him to finally hang up those gloves, and let everyone pay homage to a true great.
His passion for the sport is still unquestionable, but with a car not quite where he would like it to be, and perhaps with his skills not as sharp as they once were, it might just be time for Michael Schumacher to gracefully leave the sport for the second time, knowing his legacy is intact and his head held high.
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