Abu Dhabi: In the world of Formula One, Michael Schumacher is perhaps one of the few who may never need an introduction. Just like Roger Federer or Pete Sampras in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf. The seven-time world champion is widely regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. He holds many of its records — most championships, race victories, fastest laps, pole positions, points scored and most races won in a single season (13 in 2004) making him “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”.
In 2009, a poll of 217 Formula One drivers conducted by the British magazine Autosport named Schumacher the second-greatest F1 driver of all time behind Ayrton Senna. He has spent more than two decades of racing in the top-level sport. He retired from F1 for the first time in 2006 and then made a comeback at the beginning of the 2010 season with a three-year contract with the Mercedes Team.
As the 43-year-old German brings down the curtains on his illustrious career at the end of this season, Schumacher opens up to Gulf News in this exclusive interview:
Gulf News: It has been a difficult time for the team. Has it been bad luck or something with the car itself?
Michael Schumacher: If you take certain moments, you may call it bad luck. In South Korea and Suzuka, Nico (Rosberg) was taken out of the races, so 50 per cent of our chances were taken away in the last three races. That meant we were only 50 per cent active in the last three races. On top of this one in Suzuka coming from the back and finishing in 11th, I guess I could have easily finished in the points if I had started normal. And in the last race in India, not being quick enough was the frustration. There is a trend and the trend is not a positive one from the beginning of the year and now through the year. That is something we are facing and we are not happy ourselves and that is how we have to try and improve so that we are much more competitive next year.
Does it mean that the engineers are still working at the development of the car?
We are still working on the car for next year. We are not working on this car just for this season. Everything that is done is going to benefit the car for next season.
If you were to compare your two stints in Formula One, how would you rate the two?
There is the individual aspect and at the same time both the periods has to be taken together at the same time. I take it from the point of view of the entire journey. And this to me is so interesting and challenging both at the same time. In all, I look at everything together and feel that it was really worth it and it was fun. I am more than happy at stopping now because obviously the numbers speak for themselves. But much more than numbers are all the good times that I’ve had and this stands so clearly before my eyes at the moment.
What sort of life beckons you for a future without Formula One?
Let me put it this way: I am looking forward in terms of living back the life that I was living during the break (2006 till 2010). That was a joyful period and for sure racing has given me a lot. That chapter will now close but I don’t think I will suffer too much as there are too many things I can do in the future.
Do you have any regrets?
If I had to regret it, then I would have continued racing.
What about Nascar racing? Do you think it can suit you better after you stop F1?
I have kept saying that there are plenty of people with plenty of well-meaning ideas, such as yours now. I will find my way and find what is interesting for me. Nascar will certainly not be one of my challenges in the future.
What would be your immediate future like?
I am still obviously involved with the worldwide safety campaign. I have been, and most likely will be involved in it in the future. In Formula 1 itself, I am probably less involved in the safety aspect other than for my team. Or if I am needed to do something specific to improve F1 safety aspects, I am always around.
Formula One returns to the US after a break. What are your emotions turning back to the US?
I have been a huge fan of America as I find their way of life there is pretty unique and I have enjoyed a lot of good times over there. From that point of view, I am very much looking forward to going there. I guess F1 should be proud that it is staging a race there. That’s something that is very special and the country has plenty of opportunities for many different activities and F1 is a very international activity that fits in well. We are all very happy to go to America as it will be a good thing for the US. It would be ideal to have a F1 American driver one day as that would pull the interest of the people up significantly. So as a future investment I hope it turns out to be good and everyone will be happy afterwards.
The race for the 2012 title is wide open between Vettel and Alonso. What would be your prediction?
I don’t think it is much different to what happens anywhere even at the beginning of the season. You are always 100 per cent focussed on that single event and you take one race at a time. You are going to go for optimum points and sometimes optimum can be second place and you can clinch a first place but with too much risk. So you better decide if you want to take the 18 points with a less risk or go all out for the 25 points but with more risk. Ultimately, it is as the situation demands. That is exactly how we will see it here on Sunday. There is a slight difference obviously in that percentage. Seb [Vettel] is going to be much more careful than Fernando is because he is in front in points and Fernando will rightly be more aggressive.