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Goodbye or good riddance: King Schumacher calls it quits

Blisteringly fast, breathtakingly arrogant, supremely talented, unforgivably indulged.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2006 21:46 IST

Blisteringly fast, breathtakingly arrogant, supremely talented, unforgivably indulged.

Love him or loathe him, Michael Schumacher has attracted plaudits and weathered criticism throughout a 15-year Formula One career which has brought him seven world titles, an annual income of 30 million dollars and the mantle of the greatest driver of all time.

Such a high profile means he's never far from the headlines.

This year at Monaco, he was roundly condemned when he was accused of deliberately parking his Ferrari on the circuit to stop world champion Fernando Alonso from bettering his qualifying time.

"Everyone has black marks on their record but I do not have many," Schumacher declared."

"Those who shout their mouths off are too cowardly to say something to my face. You have envy and rivals here in Formula One just like in life."

"The reasonable people come to me and they are more important to me than the others."

A potent cocktail of bloody-mindedness and brilliance behind the wheel has kept the German at the peak of his sport despite enduring an inauspicious start to his career.

In Belgium in 1991, he was drafted in by Jordan as a late replacement for Frenchman Bertrand Gachot who had been jailed in Britain.

Schumacher qualified seventh at Spa, but failed to complete the first lap, due to clutch problems.

His first title arrived in 1994, the year of Ayrton Senna's death, and there was little doubt about the dawning of a new era in the sport even if this new horizon was clouded by controversy.

Schumacher made sure of the title beating Damon Hill by just one point, but only after an accident at the last race in Australia where the two men collided.

He defended the title in 1995 before switching to Ferrari, winning three races in his first season in a car dogged by poor reliability and sluggish handling.

In 1997, the first sparks of a bitter rivalry with Jacques Villeneuve became public in dramatic circumstances.

Schumacher went into the last race at Jerez with a one-point advantage over the Canadian but it ended in an accident between the two.

Villeneuve raced onto to take the crown; Schumacher had his second place in the championship stripped by the FIA.

Schumacher's hopes in 1998 were dashed in the final race despite having picked up six wins while 1999's title push ended with a broken leg after a spectacular crash at Silverstone.

In 2000, Rubens Barrichello replaced Eddie Irvine as Schumacher's teammate and the chemistry seemed to work.

The Brazilian, very much the supporting actor, watched as the German took his third world title, delivering Ferrari's first in 21 years.

Any lingering doubts over Schumacher's supremacy at Ferrari disappeared in another title winning season in 2002 when his fifth crown, equalling the mark of Juan Fangio, was tarnished by Barrichello being forced to yield on the finish line to hand the German victory in Austria.

The boos didn't unsettle him as 2003 and 2004 saw two more titles.

He then won over a new legion of fans by donating 10 million dollars of his own fortune to victims of the Asian tsunami; he had lost a bodyguard in the disaster.

2005 may have seen his title monopoly snapped by Fernando Alonso's Renault, but this year he looks likely to push the Spaniard all the way.

His departure from the sport will not signal the sport's death knell.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone recalled similar fears after Senna died.

"Ayrton was more popular than Michael," said Ecclestone.

"But we went on. F1 has survived since 1950 so I assume that it is more popular than one driver."