On the eve of the Turkish Grand Prix, Sir Jackie Stewart has criticised seven-times world champ Michael Schumacher for returning to Formula One. And the feisty Scot, who has enjoyed a second career on the back of this three F1 world crowns, believes Schumacher seriously risks damaging his own legacy with his return.
And Stewart — in London to unveil a new £295 limited edition of Collage, the grand prix album which charts his racing career collated from the scrapbooks his wife, Lady Helen — is in no doubt Schumacher has gone too far.
“Juan Manuel Fangio probably did one race too many, but Michael is doing one season too many,” Stewart, surrounded by leather-bound copies of the 1500-print run of his book, said. “If he doesn’t become a serial winner over the rest of the season, he is no longer the Michael Schumacher the world knew. And that’s a great pity.”
There’s no denying the 41-year-old German has struggled to recapture the old magic which saw him bag 68 pole positions, and win 91 of the 248 grands prixs he started before his return this year.
Six races into his comeback with McLaren GP, Schumacher heads to Istanbul this weekend ninth in the championship after the opening six races, and 34 points behind his junior team-mate Nico Rosberg in eighth. The 24-year-old German hasn’t won in 76GPs.
“To be honest, I’d rather that Michael hadn’t come back,” Stewart — who dominated F1 in its most dangerous era between 1965 and 1973, famously retiring on the eve of his 100th GP start after the death of his friend and protégé Francois Cevert— continued.
“I’ve always been a great admirer of him because of the enormous achievements he had and the reputation he created, but he now risks throwing all that away. There’s no doubt about that.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’m in no doubt Michael retired too early, leaving before he got the bug that motor racing provides out of his system. That’s why he ended up going and riding superbikes in Germany, and falling off more than once.
“His decision to quit just didn’t make sense. He hadn’t got the racing bug out of his system before he went . He should have taken more time and thought about it longer before deciding to retire.
“Of course, when Mercedes came knocking at his door, it looked like the perfect package for an all-German comeback. He should have closed the door immediately.
“When I retired I never once had the desire to return, despite a whole bunch of offers, including one for six million dollars. And I know if my good friend Jimmy Clark had retired, he would never have come back.
“Of course retiring is a big decision; you walk away from everything which has given you the stature, success and position in life. But you have to get over it. I did, but it’s something Michael hasn’t managed to do.”