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Always leave them wanting more

Laurence Edmondson October 4, 2012
Michael Schumacher has six races left in F1 © Getty Images

Always leave them wanting more. Sound advice, and for a driver with a fan base the size of Michael Schumacher's it's not too difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, there's no doubt the seven-time world champion has made the right decision by calling time on his F1 career.

He would have benefited from making his announcement a little earlier to allow a smoother transition with the news that Lewis Hamilton is joining Mercedes, but retiring for the second time he wanted to be absolutely sure he was making the right call after what happened in 2006. The good news is that listening to him speak he is happy with his decision.

"It's actually not painful, it's the opposite and a relief. I have done so much in this sport that when the battery is going into the red zone - as it did the first time and as it is doing now again - it is something I am looking forward to. There are plenty of other beautiful things you can do in life, not that I didn't love what I was doing here, but there is a time to change that."

Mercedes signing Hamilton rather muddies the waters as there will be the inevitable questions about whether he jumped or was pushed. In reality, Schumacher's indecision since the start of the season meant Mercedes was always going to look elsewhere, and with a driver like Hamilton on the market, Schumacher had to be absolutely sure he wanted to carry on to be considered. Doubt is a huge weakness in such situations and Schumacher knows as well as anyone that weaknesses and Formula One don't mix. If he'd really wanted the seat he would have made it clear, but as it happened he said Hamilton's decision eventually helped him make his own mind up.

"The special moment, in a way, is that the team had found an option with Lewis and that sort of helped me find that decision," Schumacher said. "Obviously there was an option for me to do so at an earlier stage and I was in the picture when the negotiations were going on, but I didn't want to decide and I wasn't sure about myself. Sometimes in life your destiny will develop by itself, and so it did, without any hard feelings or any regrets."

He may have stayed had Hamilton not been brought on board, but if anything it did him a favour. If there was that element of doubt in his mind and his batteries were running low, what use would an extra season or two have been? Nico Rosberg, who has had the upper-hand for the past three years, is still hungry for championships and from the sounds of it Schumacher's hunger has faded. Facing the prospect of going to a smaller team appears to have brought his mind into focus, and with it the realisation that now is the time to quit.

So what impact has the second part of his career had on his reputation? Ask other drivers in the paddock and they still see him as the ultimate competitor and get a thrill out of beating him on track. No-one else on the grid is even close to threatening his records, and unless the 2014 regulations result in one team dominating, it is unlikely any of them ever will. He will always be remembered as a seven-time world champion and even though he has added just one podium to his previous tally of 154 since returning, it was far from a disastrous comeback.

In qualifying at Monaco he showed that on his day and in the right car he can still be the quickest man on the track, and that no doubt eased his decision to retire. But the problem is that he has so rarely been in the right car since joining Mercedes, and for the narrow window of time when Mercedes was capable of winning races earlier this year he suffered a series of technical issues.

What's more, three years - as ridiculous as it sounds - is a short time in Formula One. When Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996 it took him five years to win the drivers' title, but that was okay as he was young and time seemed infinite. When he arrived at Mercedes he had a three-year countdown and the question of his age hanging over him, not to mention the challenge of brand new tyres and regulations to get his head around. Time was anything but infinite and that no doubt triggered a few doubts in his mind when things didn't immediately click.

The greatest shame is not the past three years, but the three that were lost between the two stages of his career. He bowed out in his prime in 2006 and there's no way of knowing what he would have achieved had he stayed on, be it with Ferrari or a different team. But just as things carried on without him in 2007 the same will be true in 2013.