The change of time is what raised people’s suspicions. Michael Schumacher’s media time had been scheduled for 1700 on Thursday, but the Mercedes AMG Petronas press office sent a memo around asking the international press corps at Suzuka to turn up 15 minutes early. Clearly, Michael had a lot to say.
When the time came, every major television station had a camera present in the Mercedes AMG Petronas hospitality unit. Journalists were crammed in around them and there were even a few quizzical team members present. There wasn’t enough room to swing a proverbial cat, not even a paddock cat.
As soon as Michael walked into the room clutching a speech in his right hand, with Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug and team principal Ross Brawn at his side, the sense of expectation was palpable. You could hear a pin drop. “Fifteen minutes in English, five minutes in German” we were told.
What came next was an emotional, uncomplicated message of intent. “I have decided to retire at the end of the season,” said Michael, before going on to say it was a relief to have made the decision to move on from racing in F1. Immediately, the ‘Twittersphere’ went into overdrive as people raced to spread the sensational news around the world. There was then a round of applause. The seven-time champ, winner of 91 races (and counting) will be gone from the F1 grid for good at the end of the year.
Brawn claimed that Michael was the best driver “this century”, and he should know because he’s been on the pitwall for all but three of Michael’s wins. Norbert Haug, meanwhile, thanked Michael for his efforts in helping to mould Mercedes AMG Petronas into the front-running outfit it has become.
For the Japanese fans waiting outside the F1 paddock gates, news of Michael’s impending retirement was almost too much. They screamed at the sight of him and held up photographs and memorabilia for him to sign. Clearly, the fans in Japan are as obsessed with F1 as they’ve ever been, although crowd numbers are not at the levels of Ayrton Senna’s best years in the early ’90s, when he was forced to fly by helicopter from the circuit hotel to the pitlane.
“The fans are passionate and knowledgeable,” says Mark Webber. “They like to put their heroes on a pedestal and they think us drivers can do things that they can’t, when, in reality, we just do different jobs.”
Schumacher will be seeking a different job at the end of the year and everyone who worked with him and knew him in F1 will sorely miss him. Good luck, Michael.