For the first time in decades, Michael Schumacher awoke on Monday morning in Sao Paulo no longer a racing driver.
No pressing need for an umpteen-hour flight back to Europe to test on Tuesday morning. No training to do. No phone call to Ross Brawn to keep up with technical developments. No planned visit to Maranello to rally the troops.
Nevertheless, very few wags in the Interlagos paddock at the weekend truly believed they had witnessed the great German’s last grand prix.
Some suggest that he could be a test driver in 2007; primarily to make up for successor Kimi Raikkonen’s deficiencies, but perhaps also just to keep his motor racing heart revving.
But technical director Brawn insisted in Brazil: “Even with the fitness regimes these guys have, the drivers start the season with the first test and their necks are aching and their heads are falling off. So it is not a sort of situation where a driver can just pop in and have a go in a car and give you a diagnosis and then go again.”
Indeed, Ferrari insiders reckon a “technical” or “commercial” role with the Scuderia is more likely for Schumacher in 2007, even though the man himself isn’t saying. “You are asking me questions that I cannot answer,” he said on Sunday, clearly annoyed that fourth was the best he could do in his nonetheless dazzling finale.
Schumacher denied to reporters that his forlorn look was anything to do with his decision to quit. “If I was upset about that,” he insisted, “then I wouldn’t have made the decision I made, would I? So I am happy.”
Cynics we may be, but not one member of the huge media scrum surrounding the Ferrari driver believed his last point. Happy? Not with that face, mate.
His expression reminded some of Niki Lauda in 1979, who seemed utterly relieved at the prospect of not having to “drive in circles” after announcing his retirement. He then won the world championship of 1984. Nigel Mansell also “retired” in 1990 but won the title in 1992 following a similar u-turn.
Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport said of Schumacher on Monday: “Why must a 37-year-old man go into pension, when the joy he experiences from racing is that of a young boy?”
Austrian Lauda, 56, added at Interlagos: “(When you retire,) at first you think ‘great, I have all this time! I can sleep in after drinking too much beer’, things like that. But after two months your worst enemy hunts you down – boredom.”