Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My Ode to a Hard Fought Greatness

Belgium, sometime in 1991:
I was scared. I was also on top of the world.
It was my moment of truth. A chance to escape mediocrity and to attain greatness.
I had dreamt of this moment since that hot summer afternoon of 1984. But this wasn't just my dream. It was the dream of my entire family.

"Do dreamer's rise to the occassion?", I asked myself. My palms were getting more and more sweaty as everyone cleared the area.

"Go on Michael... give it your best shot!", my new boss said to me.

I acknowledged his encouragement with half a smile, and realised there was more at stake than my moment of truth.

To add to it all, I had lied. And they knew it! What surprised me was that they were still giving me this chance. They must have seen something in me, or had they exhausted all other options? I guess the world will never know.

I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer.

Once I was out of the pit lane, I raced.
Michael Schumacher made his Formula One debut with the Jordan-Ford team at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix as a replacement driver for the imprisoned Bertrand Gachot (incarcerated for spraying tear gas in a London taxi-driver's face).
Schumacher was signed by Eddie Jordan after he was greatly impressed at a Silverstone test the previous week, and Schumacher assured Jordan that he had vast experience at the challenging Spa circuit, despite the fact that he had only been around the track once—and on a borrowed bicycle!
Schumacher impressed the paddock by qualifying seventh in his first competition in an F1 vehicle, matching the team's season-best grid position, and out-qualifying his seasoned team mate, Andrea de Cesaris, an 11-year veteran. He retired on the first lap of the race with clutch problems.

August 2005:
After completing my training routine, I sat down with Corrina, Gina and Mick. It was a much needed day off. My team and I were struggling at work.
To add to that, this new guy at work, called Fernando, was giving me a run for my money. No one in the last five years had been able to challenge my abilities and now this kid of 24 was nursing dreams of taking my place.
I was talking to Corrina about how we should send the children to a private residential school in Monaco when my cell phone rang.
The ISD code indicated the call was from the United States. I was a little puzzled because I didn't know too many people from there.
The guy on the line told me his name was Steve Jobs, and that he was the CEO of Pixar Animations.
I chuckled and asked him the most obvious question of all,"Why the hell are you calling me up???"
I could almost hear him smiling when he said,"You're going to love my offer Michael!"
I met him the following week and he convinced me to do something I had never even thought of.
In 2005, Michael Schumacher delivered a vocal performance in Disney-Pixar's animated feature film "Cars".
His character in the film, a trademark Rosso Corsa Ferrari F430 who comes to Luigi's Casa della Tires (which makes Luigi himself and his friend Guido faint from joy), was named after him.
The first time I became the best in the world was 1994, three long years after my chance debut. I was with Benetton that year.
The season was a tough one, with massive ups and downs. The weekend at
Imola (Italy), in particular, was very tough on me. I was exposed to many vulnerabilities.
The last race of the season was to become a keenly contested and controversial finale to the rollercoaster season.
I clearly remember crashing out of the race, taking Damon (my closest competitor) out with me. Ironically, it was Damon's crashing out that ensured my driver's championship victory that year.
Everyone accused me of foul play. But I knew I had erred
, nothing more and nothing less.
The detail that took a little while to sink in was that I was the best in the world!
Little did I know it was the first of the seven, maybe eight times that were to follow.
Schumacher won his first World Championship in 1994 while driving for Benetton, in an extremely controversial season marred by allegations of cheating and the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

Schumacher started the season strongly, winning six of the first seven races. The raw speed of the Benetton was a surprise to the other teams, who levelled allegations of cheating. They claimed Benetton had found a way to violate the FIA-imposed ban on electronic aids, including Traction Control and Launch Control. On investigation, the FIA discovered illegal software on their car (and the cars of several rival teams), but could not prove that it had been used.

After Senna's death, Damon Hill inherited the responsibility of fighting for the championship. Hill struggled to keep pace with the Benetton in his Williams-Renault, but due to several mid-season controversial disqualifications and bans for Schumacher, he began to close the gap in the standings.
In the British Grand Prix, Schumacher was penalized for overtaking on the formation lap. He then ignored the penalty and the subsequent black flag during the race, for which he was disqualified and later given a two-race ban.
Things took a turn for the worse at Spa, where Schumacher was disqualified after winning the race, after his car was found to have illegal wear on its skidblock.
Leading by a single point going into the final race in Australia, Schumacher clinched the title after colliding with Hill in a highly controversial incident, taking both drivers out.
10th September 2006:
We won at Monza. We had to, otherwise my story would have been different.
Among the many things I announced to the world that Sunday afternoon, here is an excerpt that captures its essence:
"...Sorry, it may have taken longer than some of you wanted but you have to find the right moment and we feel this is the right moment.
To make it short, this is going to be my last Monza race. At the end of this year I have decided together with the team that I’m going to retire from racing.

It has been an exceptional, really exceptional time what motorsport in more than 30 years has given to me. I really loved every single moment of the good and the bad ones. Those moments make life so special.

In particular I should thank my family starting with obviously my Dad, my passed-away Mum and obviously my wife and my kids who at all times supported what I was doing.
And without their support, without their strengths to survive in this business and this sport, and to perform, I think it would have been impossible.
I can’t be thankful enough to my family, but as well to all my mates at the Benetton time and obviously especially at the Ferrari days when I have made so many friends.
I have so many great guys in that team and it has been a really tough decision to decide to not work together at this level with all my friends and engineers and everybody..."
I wanted to cry, but I held my nerve. I knew the world was watching.
While Schumacher was still on the podium after his win at the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari issued a press release stating that he would retire from racing at the end of the 2006 season. Schumacher personally confirmed his retirement in a very emotional statement during the post-race press conference.
The press release also stated that Schumacher would continue working for Ferrari in some capacity after his official retirement as a racing driver, and full details of this will be made clear by the end of 2006.
The team also announced that Kimi Räikkönen will replace him at Scuderia Ferrari.