Michael Schumacher climbed up to the top step of the podium for the 90th time in his career and took a long gaze down at the sea of red-clad Ferrari fans below.
The seven-time world champion was moments away from announcing his retirement and fans were begging him not to go. "Michael, please don't leave," one fan's banner read. Another said, "Schumi + Ferrari = eternal love."
"You could feel the love they have for Ferrari," Schumacher said. "If I had to talk about that decision at that moment I would not have managed to get the words out of my mouth. "One day the day has to come and I felt this was the moment," Schumacher added on Sunday after he collected himself following his Italian Grand Prix win.
"After the checkered flag I came on the radio and told all my friends in the team what I was about to announce and it was really difficult to keep my emotions under control."
The Ferrari driver will leave the sport at the end of this season, following the year-ending Brazilian Grand Prix on October 22. "It's the end of an era," said veteran Red Bull driver David Coulthard, one of the drivers who has competed against Schumacher the longest. "It was a fitting way for him to announce it with a victory."
Ferrari said it would announce a "new role" for the 37-year old Schumacher at the end of the season.
"I always said that the day I will retire I will just do nothing for a while. Then I will see what my mind will be," Schumacher said. "I will always be part of the Ferrari family," Schumacher said.
Schumacher added that he wanted to make the decision now so teammate Felipe Massa could work out his future with the team. Ferrari also announced that Massa will continue next season alongside Kimi Raikkonen, who moves over from McLaren-Mercedes. "There was no reason for me to make my decision any later than (Massa) had to make his," Schumacher said.
The 90th win of Schumacher's career moved him within two points of leader Fernando Alonso in this season's standings. Only three races remain this season and Schumacher has a chance to win an eighth title before he quits.
Alonso was penalized five places on the starting grid for blocking Massa in qualifying and he started 10th. He had just moved into third position when his engine failed 10 laps from the end. Schumacher started second and passed pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen in the first round of pit stops.
Ferrari moved past Renault in the constructors' standings, and now leads 168-165.
"I am 100 percent focused for the constructor and the driver championship," Schumacher said.
Schumacher won his first two titles with the Benetton team in 1994 and '95, then restored Ferrari to prominence with five consecutive championships from 2000-04.
"It's not as if I'm lacking anything," said Schumacher, who added that he made up his mind to retire after winning this year's United States GP in July. "Might as well leave while I'm still at the top level."
Ferrari president Luca Cordero di Montezemolo followed the race from pit lane.
"It's been eight years since I did that. I only did it for Michael," Montezemolo said. "Sincerely, I hoped he would go on for one more year."
Schumacher showed signs of vulnerability when he won the 2003 title by only two points over Raikkonen.
The German responded with another dominant year in 2004, though, winning a record 12 of the first 13 races.
Alonso ended Schumacher's title run last year, as Schumacher and Ferrari struggled to adapt to rule changes intended to stop their dominance.
This season, Ferrari and Schumacher worked overtime during the winter to regain their edge.
"Soon my future will belong to my family," Schumacher said. "But for now, what matters is the world championship."