Monza 2006 - Schumachers fond farewell 06 Sep 2007
Few drivers have the opportunity to retire at the peak of their game. But at last years Monza race, Ferraris Michael Schumacher did just that, announcing his retirement within minutes of winning an emotional victory in front of his adoring tifosi.
Although Schumacher would go on to compete in a further three races and claim his final victory at the next event in Shanghai, for him and his fans that sunny day at Monza will be remembered as the perfect swansong to an unparalleled career.
Before any on-track action had begun, it became clear that an announcement concerning the Germans future was on its way. Ferrari and Schumacher had said as much themselves and as result, the Monza paddock was awash with claims and counterclaims. Even Thursdays press conference couldnt escape the topic with Toyotas Jarno Trulli and Renaults Giancarlo Fisichella just two of the drivers pleading for the German to race on.
Friday practice did little to assuage the media whirl. But after quickly staking their claim on the timesheets, Ferraris intentions were obvious. In the afternoon session only BMW Saubers Sebastian Vettel got the better of Schumacher and his team mate Felipe Massa and the 248 F1 looked to be the class of the field. A new contender, however, was waiting in the wings.
As Saturday qualifying got underway McLarens Kimi Raikkonen demonstrated his true potential, eventually storming round the final corner during Q3 to seize pole and oust Schumacher into second. Although only two-thousandths of a second separated the pair, the moment was significant - not only was Raikkonen widely believed to be the Germans replacement for 2007, he had also unwittingly robbed the seven-time world champion of what would have been the 69th - and last - pole of his career.
But all was not lost. Though his late usurpation was far from a perfect scenario, Schumacher still had some cause for cheer - his title rival Fernando Alonso had been relegated down to 10th after a puncture and a controversial post-session penalty for (inadvertently) blocking Massa. The scene was set for a scorcher of a race.
Nonetheless, as Sunday dawned Schumacher retirement chatter continued to dominate the press. Even the late announcement on Saturday night that Dutch sports car maker Spyker had bought out the Midland team failed to distract. But as the lights went out and the race began, all was forgotten; within 53 laps the paddock would know not just the outcome of the race, but also Schumachers decision.
On track, Raikkonen initially managed to keep Schumacher at bay, maintaining his lead for the opening 14 laps. After the first round of pit stops, however, the German emerged in front. And there he stayed. From that point, he owned the race, eventually crossing the line with an eight-second advantage to claim his 90th victory.
On the podium, a visibly emotional Schumacher celebrated. As he soaked up the atmosphere, Monza waited anxiously. In the midst of such elation, no one could quite believe the German was ready to hang up his race overalls for good. But no sooner had the champagne dried, then the news broke and the tifosis celebrations became even more significant; after 16 seasons, seven world titles and 1354 points the victor was to retire.
For the Ferrari team, with whom Schumacher had won five of his driver titles and contributed to six of their constructors crowns, it was the end of an era. Both team principal Jean Todt and President Luca di Montezemolo paid tribute to the German but as Ferraris head of race track engineering, Luca Baldisserri describes it was in Schumachers own squadron of mechanics where his retirement was felt most acutely.
Last year in Monza was a very emotional race day, Baldisserri explained, ahead of this weekends Italian Grand Prix. He told the whole team over the radio after he had taken the flag. To be honest, the rumours had already been circulating for a while, but for some of the guys it was a big surprise and I remember tears in the eyes of some of the mechanics.
Meanwhile, Schumachers attention was focused on one thing alone - with Alonsos lead reduced to just two points - a record-extending eighth drivers crown was within his grasp. The rest is history. Although things thereafter didnt go quite to plan, the Germans weekend at Monza - his last racing in front of the tifosi - will be remembered as one of his finest moments, with Monza the perfect place to bow out.