Many say that Michael Schumacher’s currently disappointing comeback could damage his legacy, but history shows that won’t be the case.
Although his form has picked up during 2011, Schumacher hasn’t been on the podium once during his comeback so far. However when people talk about him in 20 years time, will this currently unsuccessful stint be the first thing people remember?
When you look back at other examples, the answer to that question is likely to be no.
Nigel Mansell’s end to his F1 career certainly wasn’t awe-inspiring. After coming back from America he drove four races for Williams in 1994. Despite beating Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher to pole position at Adelaide (and then winning the race after Hill and Schumacher collided) the general trend was that Hill was quicker.
Mansell received a further blow at the end of the season, when he lost his seat to young Scot David Coulthard, which he didn’t expect. He then joined McLaren in 1995, which many predicted wouldn’t go well considering the differing personalities of Mansell and Ron Dennis.
The relationship got off to a very embarrassing start when Nigel couldn’t fit into the car. This meant that he wasn’t able to start a race until Imola. However he was over a 1.0 second slower than Mika Hakkinen in qualifying, and was stuck in the midfield.
Although he was closer to Mika’s pace in Spain, Nigel decided to leave McLaren after driving just two races with them. He felt he couldn’t win with that year’s McLaren. It certainly wasn’t the best car the team ever built.
However a disappointing end to his F1 career certainly didn’t affect his legacy in any way. Whenever fans are asked about Mansell it’s his brave and aggressive overtaking moves that immediately spring to mind. For most he is one of the most exciting drivers ever to grace the sport.
It’s races such as Silverstone 1987, when Mansell came back from half a minute down to overtake Nelson Piquet down the Hangar Straight, that capture the imagination.
Then there was his exceptional performance in Hungary 1989 where he won from 12th on the grid, on one of the hardest circuits to overtake on. That race included his opportunistic pass on Ayrton Senna to take the lead.
Another iconic image from Nigel’s career is his side by side battle with Senna down the long straight at Catalunya in 1991. They were so close that sparks flew off the tyres. Nigel being Nigel made sure he was the last one to brake, and he got the move done.
Of course let’s not forget his championship success in 1992 where he was utterly dominant. Plus he only just missed out on the title in 1986, which was one of the most competitive seasons in F1 history.
After all these classic moments Mansell created in F1 his torrid little stint with McLaren is barely mentioned. When you type his name into Youtube it’s videos of those moments that dominate the search pages.
Many thought Alain Prost’s legacy would be ruined by the period in the late 90s/early 2000s when he managed his own team.
Prost bought Ligier in 1997 and re-named the team after himself. Apart from a couple of podiums at the start the team was never successful.
2000 was the most embarrassing season of all when the team didn’t score a single point, and finished bottom of the championship. The team went bankrupt in 2002.
Commentators at the time thought that Prost would just be remembered as a bad team manager, rather than the great four times world champion he was.
However ten years after the Prost team folded that couldn’t be further from the truth. Alain is still remembered very fondly as “the professor” for his intelligent and calculated approach to his racing.
People also look back on his intense battles with Senna, which still goes down as by far the most exciting rivalry the sport has ever seen. His time as a team manager is barely mentioned these days.
Mika Hakkinen’s final season in F1 in 2001 wasn’t particularly strong with only two race victories. Winning two world titles had taken a lot out of him, and it showed in many of his races that year.
When fans look back on his career that last season didn’t affect his reputation at all. He is still much loved for that wonderful move on Schumacher at Spa in 2000. That clip will continue to be replayed over and over again.
He will always be one of the few racers who could beat Schumacher when he was at his peak. One poor season can never change that.
In the short term Schumacher will probably continue to receive criticism about his comeback if the podiums/wins don’t come. However it will be his seven world titles that he will always be remembered most for. Nobody can take those titles away from him.
Fans will look back on his dramatic rivalries with Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso and how he would never give anybody an inch.
He will be remembered for the sheer effort he put in off the race track which helped him become so successful on it. He raised the bar for fitness in F1 and completely transformed the Ferrari team.
Peter Sauber told German news agency SID: “Speed alone is not enough.”
“Frentzen, for example, had an equal amount of talent, possibly a bit more. But Michael was a very hard worker, was very ambitious, mentally strong and physically always perfectly prepared. That is why it was noticeable from early on that he was a special talent.”
The list of incredible races he drove is endless. Some of those that will stand the test of time will be Spain 1994 where he was stuck in fifth gear, but still set very competitive lap times.
Then there was Spain 1996 where he crucified the opposition in the wet, in what was the worse Ferrari he drove.
Perhaps his best performance of all time was Suzuka 2000. He and Hakkinen were miles quicker than anyone that weekend, as they fought for the world title. Both drivers drove flat out on the limit for the entire race. Schumacher just edged it and won his first Ferrari championship.
When looking back on this period most will probably say he wasn’t given a competitive car to showcase his abilities. Maybe this will change in 2012.
Mansell recently told F1 Racing: “I still think he can win a race. Jenson had the best balanced car in 2009, but when Michael came back in 2010 it wasn’t a good car.”
He added: “Michael can still do the job, it’s just whether he’ll have the opportunity to get everything right again.”
His moments of controversy such as Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997 will put more of a mark on his legacy, than his current lack of big results in his comeback will.
At the end of the day those who are huge admirers will remain huge admirers. Those who have never liked him still won’t like him.
So in actual fact his comeback won’t really have changed anything, unless Mercedes give him a competitive car next season and he produces impressive results to match.