As he nuzzled up to the Monte Carlo barriers, the seconds ticking down to the end of qualifying, one thing was clear: Schumacher and controversy were about to become bedfellows once again.
The German held provisional pole position, but was far from safe - Renault's Fernando Alonso, the upstart who had taken three wins and three second places to seize an early championship lead, was just 0.064s down the road after the pair's first runs. What's more, Alonso was going significantly faster on his final run.
Schumacher, ahead on the road, hadn't found the same gains through the first two sectors of his own run. As he approached the penultimate section, pole - a vital tool on the streets of Monte Carlo - was therefore slipping from his grasp.
Except that Alonso never got to complete his lap. Schumacher got it all wrong at Rascasse, locking his front right tyre, clumsily veering off line and then parking across the exit of the right hander, a final twist of the steering wheel keeping his Ferrari out of the barriers.
The yellow flags flew, and the rest of the field were denied their final laps: Schumacher would be on pole. But that was only the start of the story.
Schumacher defended the incident in a deliciously awkward press conference, saying that his final lap had been "unfortunately just a touch too much" and that he hadn't been aware of where he would end up. Alonso, meanwhile, insisted pole would have been his, but chose not to be drawn on commenting further.
Others were more forthright. As the stewards announced an investigation, several drivers and team bosses openly questioned both the timing and details of Schumacher's mistake. When Schumacher walked past the Renault motor home, staff emerged to give him a thumbs down.
"I don't believe that he really had any problems," McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen reflected in the aftermath.
"Given that we are not Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I think that what he did was unsporting," was the take of Renault team boss Flavio Briatore.
"There's no way you could make a mistake like that," said Schumacher's old adversary Jacques Villeneuve, who had famously survived a collision with Schumacher to clinch the 1997 championship crown. "I hope it was deliberate, because if you can make a mistake like that, you shouldn't drive a race car."
The stewards arrived at a similar conclusion. Having heard evidence from Schumacher, various team members and the FIA race director, they stripped the seven-time champion of pole and sent him to the back of the grid. Alonso was promoted in his stead and would duly go on to take victory, with McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya second and David Coulthard third for what was Red Bull's first Grand Prix podium.
Schumacher, meanwhile, would fight back in style to finish fifth on Sunday, but even so couldn't undo the damage of what remains one of the biggest scandals of his career.
But what did the man at the centre of the storm make of it all?
"Whatever you do in certain moments, your enemies believe one thing and the people who support you believe another," he told reporters in the paddock on Saturday.
"Some people may not believe it, but unfortunately that's the world we live in."