SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Aug 26 — Michael Schumacher looked back with pride and pleasure, and maybe just a twinge of regret, on a Formula One career spanning 20 extraordinary years yesterday.
All in all, the most successful — and controversial — of modern racing drivers declared his conscience to be clean.
The 42-year-old German, who won his record seven championships with Benetton and Ferrari, took centre stage at a news conference at the Belgian Grand Prix circuit where he made his race debut for the Jordan team on August 25, 1991.
Sitting alongside current world champion Sebastian Vettel, Schumacher expressed astonishment that he was still around.
“It is an unusual situation and certainly not something to be expected from the beginning,” said the smiling Mercedes driver, who took three years out before making his comeback last season.
“Certainly I guess in every person’s career ... you take a summary, you almost make an account,” he added when asked if he had any regrets.
“I have to say in my case, taking the 20 years, taking everything that I’ve been doing ... certainly going backwards, I would do certain things differently.
“But then in life you have to make some mistakes in order to understand it is a mistake and to sort of set your guidelines,” continued Schumacher.
“All in all, I guess the vest that I’m wearing, that I’m wearing inside me, is pretty white and I’m pretty happy about this. I don’t have many regrets and overall, I certainly feel very excited and proud of what has happened.”
Schumacher’s records, cemented during his period of dominance with Ferrari from 2000 to 2005, include 91 race wins and 68 pole positions.
The darker side to his legacy includes trying to shunt Canadian Jacques Villeneuve off the track in the 1997 title decider, clashes with British favourite Damon Hill and a 2006 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying debacle when he ‘parked’ his car at the Rascasse corner to prevent rival Fernando Alonso taking pole position.
Although Schumacher was all smiles yesterday, he recognised in an interview with F1 Racing magazine that he “sometimes went over the edge” in his battles with Hill.
Ross Brawn, the Mercedes team boss who was his technical director at Ferrari, said Schumacher’s actions were simply symptomatic of his intensely competitive streak.
“It’s not an excuse, because I wish the things that happened hadn’t happened,” Brawn told the magazine. “But sometimes a switch flicks the wrong way and drivers do things they shouldn’t.
“Rascasse just had no logic because we had a fantastic car and whether we were on pole or not, with the pitstops we could have won that race easily,” added the Briton. “It’s just that this trigger went again.
“There are things that he shouldn’t have done, and he reflects on the fact he shouldn’t have done them, but that is one of the ingredients of a genius.”
Schumacher’s fellow drivers were happy to pay him their respects while reminiscing about the impact he had made on their lives and careers.
“I think the first time I was in touch with Michael was 1991 or 1992, probably as a toy car in kindergarten,” grinned Red Bull’s champion Vettel, who was barely four when Schumacher made his debut.
“Obviously I have a lot of respect ... he was the hero of my childhood. I can’t give you (Schumacher) too much credit now, but I think he’s an okay driver.” — Reuters