Why Michael Schumacher Should Retire (And Why Jacques Villeneuve Should Shut the Fuck Up)

Former Formula One World Champion Jacques Villenueve burned bridges with yet another, this time possibly his last, Formula One team, when after yet another disappointing season, BMW-Sauber fired him. In true Jacques-Attack fashion, though, he couldn't go out without a series of jabs at the world in general, the state of Formula 1, his former team, and seven-time world champion and now number one contender Michael Schumacher.

Villenueve's opinion of himself and his abilities is in vastly inverse proportion to his achievements as a driver since he left the Williams-Renault team in 1999 to join the then-nascent British American Racing team. I like to call him a "Newey Monkey" along with 1996 world champion and fellow former Williams-Renault driver Damon Hill.

From the late 80s up until the end of the last century, no other single force was as dominant in Formula One racing as Adrian Newey. I think with the exception of 1994 and 1995, the two years Schumacher won the world title for Benetton, every single driver's title from 1988 to 1999 was won with a Newey-designed car. Then-top teams Williams and McLaren played tug-of-war for his invaluable automotive genius. In fact, up until the start of the modern Ferrari era in the year 2000, it was believed that Newey's cars were invincible, and that you could basically put a chimp in the cockpit and still win the world title...hence the term "Newey Monkey."

There were some drivers of Newey vehicles who really stood out, and whose talent was evident, even when they weren't driving top-level machinery. The late Ayrton Senna was undoubtedly one such driver, as was his most hated rival, Alain Prost, who in one season won five victories for a then-truly shitty Ferrari team. Back-to-back world champion Mika Hakkinen was another, although given how quickly he faded after losing the title to Michael Schumacher that may be open to debate.

And then, there are the drivers who, but for the fact that they were driving the fastest cars on the grid, would not have amounted to squat. The best examples of this are Hill and Villeneuve, neither of whom registered a single race win after leaving the Williams-Renault team. (Well, okay, Hill won once).

The sad thing about Villeneuve's rant is that when talking about Schumacher, he brought back into the public eye the nastier part of the world champion's history, and put into sharper relief some of his more recent antics.

It's unfortunate how, back in 1994, Schumacher crashed into Damon Hill to take victory at Adelaide, Australia, and equally unfortunate how, three years later, he tried to drive Jacques Villenueve off the road in Jerez, Spain, in a vain attempt to wrest the world title he would finally win for Ferrari three years later, and four more years in succession.

But this was a younger, more rash Schumacher who was a self-confessed fan of Ayrton Senna and his antics (Senna infamously crashed into archrival prost in Suzuka in 1989 to take the world championship). We could forgive him his sins because he was just too damn talented to be anything but admirable. Besides, we all recognized that as terrible a trait as this was, it was simply an offshoot of the most prominent aspect of the man's character: the drive to win. It didn't hurt that he was a complete gentleman off the track, not an insufferable loudmouth like Senna.

And when the Schumacher era began in 2000, fans like myself, who groaned every year he had lost to Williams or McLaren (all Newey-designed, by the way) were ecstatic, and we all had a five-year party afterwards. Schumacher's talent shone through, and we laughed as we knew he would never have to pull stupid stunts to win again.

Things didn't go so well last year, when the F1 body finally figured out a rule that would work against Ferraris strengths and banned tire changes. Ferrari and their partners at Bridgestone suffered terribly, and so did the loyal tifosi such as myself.

When Ferrari started on the comeback trail in 2006, I was once again trying to follow the races as doggedly as I could. Finally! Schumi was back on the top step, where he belonged!

And then Monaco happened.

I never actually saw the controversial qualifying incident, but after reading article upon article about it I shook my head and saw glimpses of the Schumacher who drove into Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. I didn't want to believe that he was regressing out of frustration with the points gap to championship leader Fernando Alonso.

When he won three races in a row starting with Indianapolis, I figured Monaco would be forgotten, and that Schumacher could go on to take the title and maybe put off his much ballyhooed retirement for a year or two.

And then Hungary happened.

From 2000 to 2005, Michael Schumacher's two greatest assets have been 1) his uncanny talent and 2) his desire to win. These have served him well, especially when he was driving an inferior car. Unfortunately, now it looks like number 2 is turning into his biggest liability.

In Hungary, Schumacher was driving the last few laps of the race on tires that were all but gone. It was perfectly reasonable that he was losing grip hand over fist to drivers with fresh tires which were more appropriate to track conditions. This notwithstanding, he could have finished with at least four or five points and dealt the retired Alonso a serious blow to his back-to-back championship hopes. Michael Schumacher the seasoned veteran and elder statesman of the sport would have known better than to put 100% into a car that was only operating at about 60% of its maximum performance. He would have taken the four or five points and come back next race to truly take the fight to Alonso. Instead, Michael Schumacher the victory-obsessed hothead chose to duel it out with Nick Heidfeld (Nick Heidfeld!) for third place...and freaking retire with damaged suspension. He was lucky to be awarded a point when seventh place finisher Robert Kubica was later disqualified.

I want Schumacher to win this year. I want him to take the title and shove it down Fernando Alonso's sawed off little throat. I think he's the greatest driver motor sport has ever seen.

But the FIA knows this, too, and if he wins, they'll try to cook up some other rule that will hobble him. Sure, he loves challenges, but apparently, they can really get to him, and apparently, when he gets desperate, he isn't above driving recklessly to get what he wants, even after all these years.

I want people to remember seven (or eight) time world champion Michael Schumacher as the guy who revolutionized Formula One, a man who proved that even with all the technology involved, driver's talent can still make a huge difference. I don't want them to remember the man who began and ended his brilliant career driving like a madman and pulling all kinds of shenanigans just to win...and losing anyway.

So to take a page out of the book of Willi Weber, Schumi's manager: Win this one, just this one last time, Michael, then hang it up.


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