Many had grown bored of the ceaseless dominance of Schumacher and the Ferrari victory machine.
But not his legion of fans, who may struggle to transfer their affections onto another driver.
Will you miss Michael Schumacher in 2007? Or will he be forgotten after the first race? Here are a few of my thoughts.
But the biggest change of all is an absence rather than an addition – the departure of Michael Schumacher.
Since the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1st, 1994, Schumacher has been the number one in Formula One – whether or not it said so on the front of his car.
Even when misfortune put him ‘out of position’ – as at Spa-Francorchamps in 1995 – he could still romp through the pack and win. He very nearly capped his final race at Interlagos last year with a similar feat.
From 1994 to 2006 there was only one season where a Schumacher victory might have been unexpected – in 2005, when Ferrari and Bridgestone failed to adapt to the one-off regulations barring tyre changes.
Many fans and commentators were in Schumacher’s thrall, witnessing, so they said, pure driving genius at work. And, to a point, it was. Some of Schumacher’s victories rank among the greatest ever witnessed: Spa ’95, Nurburgring ’95, Barcelona ’96, etc…
But, at the height of Ferrari domination, when they won every championship from 2000-2004, fans were turning away from Formula One in increasing numbers.
Crowd figures fell even at Ferrari’s traditional strongholds in Italy. Television viewing figures in Britain fell by almost a third from 2002-2006.
Was this Schumacher’s fault? Was it more to do with the fact that casual television viewers find it difficult to appreciate the efforts of sportsmen racing in machines that appear easy to drive?
A late rules change handed him the 2003 title on a plate. Rivals such as Juan Pablo Montoya seemed to get a rougher ride from the stewards than Schumacher.
His punishment in the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, for a startling indiscretion when he appeared to try to deliberately spoil his rivals lap times, did little to dissuade claims that the FIA were soft on Ferrari.
This is all gone now. Whether you were dazzled by his freakish speed, or turned off by the unseemly controversies, Formula 1 will be a very different proposition from the Australian Grand Prix this year.
So, will you miss Michael Schumacher?
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