Michael Schumacher: The long goodbye

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SummarySchumacher’s comeback was less than successful but it had its moments

Michael Schumacher’s comeback was less than successful but it had its moments

Motivational speeches about life and second chances aside, second acts in sport rarely turn out well. For every Andre Agassi who redeemed his professional and personal reputation with his comeback, there’s a Michael Jordan, a legend not quite tarnished by his misadventures on a baseball field following his first retirement, but one who certainly became more of a punchline after his third and final retirement from basketball. As Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix brought the curtains down on the 2012 Formula 1 season, it was clear that Michael Schumacher’s second go-around was more Jordan than Agassi.

It was always going to be difficult for Schumacher to emulate his own staggering success. By the time he made his comeback in 2010, he was a (very fit) 41-year-old competing in a sport that seems to get younger each passing year. F1 tends to evolve quickly, and the sport had changed dramatically in the three years he had been away, after first retiring as a Ferrari driver in 2006. Expectations were nonetheless high; he re-teamed with old collaborator Ross Brawn at a brand new Mercedes works team, returning to the fold, as it were — his F1 debut in 1991 was funded by Mercedes.

But through the 2010 season, it became painfully clear that the heady days of 2000-04 were long past. Schumacher had younger, hungrier rivals; he struggled to come to grips with the new tyres; and most incredible of all, his reaction times were slower. Time had caught up with the man many compared to a robot for his metronomic consistency and left him behind. Still, given how much success in F1 is about the car, there was reason to hope 2011 would be different. When that failed, fans pinned their hopes on 2012 — even if he couldn’t win another title, surely race wins were possible?

As it happened, Mercedes did build a race-winning car this year. Only it wasn’t Schumacher climbing on the top step of the podium for a record-extending 92nd time; it was his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who won his — and Mercedes’s — first F1 race. It was a massive reality check: the fiercely competitive Schumacher, long thought to demand preferential treatment from his teams, defeated by his own teammate! Schumacher 1.0 certainly wouldn’t have stood for it.

When Schumacher retired the first time, he went out at the top,

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