Michael Schumacher’s colourful and controversial career came to an end in 2006 as the great German headed into comfortable retirement with a record seven world titles safely tucked away.
His heroic, season-long bid to secure an eighth title eventually ended in disappointment, but not after an enthralling tussle which witnessed both the best and the worst of Schumi.
It also breathed new life into a sport which was in danger of becoming pedestrian and predictable. The drama started in March when it looked like a sure-thing for defending champion Fernando Alonso and Renault. It ended seven months later with Schumacher’s car parked-up at Suzuka, his car up in smoke, taking the driver’s desire for one last entry in the history books with it.
The 37-year-old went into retirement admitting that he had some regrets. “There were things I would do differently, but there is the song ‘My Way’ and I think that is true right now,” he said.
That the championship was still alive until the final race in Brazil will form part of the Schumacher legacy, an epic that had looked more like a horror story after three races of the season when he was 17 points behind Alonso. The season kicked off in Bahrain with Alonso taking victory while teammate Giancarlo Fisichella won in in Malaysia.
Australia hammered home Alonso’s superiority as the Spaniard won while Schumacher failed to finish. Victory at San Marino, however, saw Schumacher get off the mark for 2006.
It was the same one-two at the Nurburgring for the European Grand Prix but the positions were reversed at Barcelona.
Alonso increased his lead to 15 points heading into Monaco where the darker side of Schumacher emerged. The Spaniard won from pole with Schumacher trailing in fifth place after he had been sent to the back of the grid in disgrace.
Schumacher was second again to Alonso at Silverstone as the points deficit stretched to 23. That lead became 25 in Canada when the Renault star won.
Then, in July, Schumacher led teammate Felipe Massa in a Ferrari one-two at Indianapolis. Schumacher won the next races in France and Germany as Alonso saw his lead shrink to 11 points.
In Hungary, Jenson Button finally broke his long wait with a win in in his 113th race. Alonso crashed out while Schumi picked up one point. In Turkey, Massa took a maiden win with Alonso beating Schumacher to second place.
At Monza, Schumacher announced he would retire at the end of the season but still took victory, the 90th of his career. He beat Alonso in China leaving the two men locked on 116 points each.
But in Japan, Schumacher’s title ambitions went up in smoke. Alonso won after Schumacher’s suffered engine failure for the first time in six years.
It left Alonso only requiring a point at the final race in Brazil. Alonso finished second after Schumi’s Ferrari suffered a tyre puncture. Massa won his home race.
Despite his two titles, Alonso insists Schumacher’s mark of seven world titles will never be beaten.