Triple world champ Jackie Stewart thinks Michael Schumacher has damaged his reputation by returning to Formula 1. While the 2010 season is still young, it’s true that Schumacher has failed to set the paddock alight in the preliminary races of the season.
Speaking at a recent promotional event for his new book, Stewart said, “I’d rather that Michael hadn’t come back because of the enormous achievements he had and the reputation he created. There’s no doubt that if he doesn’t become a serial winner now he is no longer the Michael Schumacher the world knew. Juan Manuel Fangio probably did one race too many, but Michael is doing one season too many. Michael didn’t win the Championship in his last year and has then come back, so he risks altering the perception of what he’s achieved.”
Stewart believers Schumacher’s real problem has been one of timing. It’s not so much that Schumacher is trying to prolong his career past his natural shelf date, the Scot insists. The real error was in retiring too soon at the end of 2006. Had he continued racing for a few more years, he very likely might have captured another title with Ferrari, and certainly would have added to his portfolio of wins. Had he done a final three-year deal with Ferrari, he would have retired at the end of last year.
“The problem was that Michael retired too early, leaving before he got the bug that motor racing provides out of his system,” Stewart said. “Had he thought more about it and taken longer to make the decision he wouldn’t have retired. Since he hadn’t got it out of his system he went riding superbikes in Germany and fell off more than once. It doesn’t make sense at all. Mercedes-Benz looked like the perfect opportunity, but had Jim Clark retired he would not have come back.”
Stewart himself retired prior to the start of what would have been his 100th race, the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, after his team mate at Tyrell, Francois Cevert, was killed in practice. While the decision might have seemed sudden, the fact is Stewart had decided to retire at the beginning of the 1973 season. Cevert’s death just hastened the Scot’s departure from the sport one race sooner than planned.
Clearly, though, by the time he’d hung up his helmer his desire for racing had been quenched. “When I retired I never once had the desire to return,” Stewart admits. “despite a whole bunch of offers including one for 6 million. I got over it, something that Michael hasn’t managed to do.”
One wonders if it’s fair for Stewart to judge Schumacher based on his own experience. Clearly, the German ace is more interested in pursuing his passion than he is preserving his reputation. As long as he can remain competitive, who can blame him? While he might be a bit rusty, he’s far from being over the hill. If his performance has seemed spotty thus far, it’s only because he set such high expectations in the early part of his career.