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Tribute to a legend: Michael Schumacher

By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

For more than a decade, Formula One has been divided by the behaviour of a man blessed with sublime talents and some all too obvious failings.

He is one of the greats, a figure who transcends his sporting arena as a global celebrity familiar even to those far removed from the world of motor racing.

A generation of fans has grown up watching Michael Schumacher punch the air as he performs his familiar victory leap, fans who have revelled in his skill in the rain at Spa and celebrated alongside him in his native Germany.

There are plenty of others, however, who feel that the 37-year-old's career has been too chequered for him to be due the worship accorded to such greats like Juan Fangio, Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna -- even if the latter was no angel himself.

But what cannot be denied is that the German has been a winner like no other.

The bare facts are incontestable: a record 90 victories after Sunday's triumph at Monza, five successive titles for Ferrari and more points, pole positions and podiums than anyone else in history.

Schumacher has excelled at being in the right place at the right time, and almost always in the best car. He has also been the architect of his own success by building a strong team around him.

The son of a bricklayer, who now owns a go-kart circuit in Kerpen near Cologne, Schumacher was born in Huerth-Hermuelheim on Jan. 3, 1969.

The man who would go on to become Germany's first and so far only Formula One world champion started karting at the age of four in a machine built by father Rolf and powered by a lawnmower engine.

He made his debut in a Jordan at Spa in 1991 after that team's Belgian driver Bertrand Gachot was imprisoned for assaulting a London cab driver with CS gas.

Schumacher's manager Willie Weber convinced Eddie Jordan that the young German, little known outside the Mercedes sportscar team, knew the famed circuit well. In fact, he had merely been around it on a bicycle.

The former garage mechanic was an instant hit, snapped up immediately afterwards by Flavio Briatore's Benetton and taking his first win at Spa in 1992.

That was followed by a first championship with Benetton in 1994 after Brazilian Senna was killed at Imola.

Senna's death robbed Formula One of an enthralling battle, the young pretender against the triple champion. Only later, with the emergence of Alonso as Formula One's youngest champion in 2005 and Kimi Raikkonen winning with McLaren, did that generational showdown emerge.

But Schumacher conquered them all and with the notable exception of Alonso, with whom his title chances are set to go down to the wire in this season, he did it in his own unique way.

People adore and worship Schumacher for his brilliant driving and an equal number detest him for his insatiable desire to win at all costs. As teammate Mark Bundle once said, “He cannot see when he crosses the line between tough but fair, and ruthless but foul. That is exacerbated by his total belief that he cannot be wrong.”

But Schumacher has almost always been there and thereabouts and that shows how much of great he really is.

We've heard the phrase "the end of an era" in abundance since Michael Schumacher announced his impending retirement but, despite the cliché, that's precisely what it is. Love him or hate him, Schumacher is the most successful driver of his generation and, indeed, in the history of Formula One. We may never see his like again -- for some people that would not be a bad thing, for others it would be the end of an era and quite rightfully so.


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