Seven-time Champion bows out of Formula OneMichael Schumacher
retired on Sunday as a seven time drivers' world champion but with a career dogged by controversy.
The 37-year-old went into his last race today at Interlagos having won 91 races on his way to seven drivers'
world titles, including five for Ferrari. He needed a miracle if he was to clinch an eighth crown here after a fuel pump problem in qualifying left him tenth on the grid while rival Fernando Alonso
, needing just a point to defend his title, started in fourth.
Many critics believe, as the 1997 champion Canadian Jacques Jacques Villeneuve
said in vehement fashion recently, that Schumacher is a flawed champion, a man whose records do not justify a reputation that claims he is the greatest of all time.
Too many controversial incidents punctuated his time at the top, too many accidents, incidents and allegations of wrong-doing, including rumours that in 1994 and 1995 when he won his first titles with Benetton, that the team had an unfair advantage.
All of this has thrown shadows, but none of it should go anywhere near reducing the brilliant light created by his talent and his ability to win Formula One races in a style that he stamped on the imagination of a wide sporting public.
No wonder thousands of the Ferrari team's red-bedecked tifosi stood on the asphalt of the Autodromo Nazionale to cheer him to the end after his 90th victory and his fifth at Monza in September, the weekend he announced he was to retire at the end of the season. But as the Italians celebrated his victory and his career, others scoffed.
It has been this way since the early days due to his reputation for defending with aggression, sometimes forcing other drivers off the circuit and leaving no room for error. His critics talked of his questionable racing ethics, but his admirers talked only of his virtuoso racing. As a result, he leaves the sport with magnificent achievements but with a reputation that divided the paddock.
Purists argue that he should not be included in the pantheon of greatest racing drivers alongside Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina, Scotland's Jim Clark or Englishman Stirling Moss, widely described as the greatest driver never to win the championship.
But the records speak for themselves and Schumacher will be remembered for his competitive instincts, his professionalism, his fitness and his relentless run of successes in the era that followed the 1994 death of Brazilian Ayrton Senna who was, arguably, the man who introduced bruising and aggressive tactics to the tracks of Formula One.
Schumacher's catalogue of alleged misdemeanours included a collision in Adelaide at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix where Briton Hill was forced to retire and so Schumacher lifted his first title.
Another came in 1997 when he collided deliberately with Jacques Villeneuve
, but lost out and not only failed to win the title, but was punished for it too by the sport's ruling body.
He was also accused of cheating earlier this year when he left his car on the fast line ahead of Fernando Alonso
's Renault in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
In short, Schumacher, though gifted with speed and other sporting attributes, may have been a bad loser but he mellowed as he grew older. And the reason he chose to retire at the end of this season was as much because he was in danger of being beaten for sheer speed by younger rivals as it is any other.
This son of a bricklayer from Kerpen, near Cologne, became the first German winner and champion in the history of Formula One.
A family man, he had little to do with the so-called glamour of the sport apart from being one of the drivers' leading spokesmen on safety and playing for their football team.
He has little idea of what he will do when he retires - but it is certain that he will play some role as an ambassador for Ferrari.
It was with a sense of theatre and perfect timing that he announced his retirement at Monza for it was there in 1991 that he was revealed as a Benetton driver after a secret overnight 'transfer' from Jordan on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix.
In Michael Schumacher
, Formula One had not only a great driver and a great race winner, but also the greatest competitor in the sport's history.