Michael Schumacher has confessed that if he could have his record-breaking F1 career over again, he would 'do some things differently' – most notably the highly controversial manner in which he tried and failed to snatch the 1997 drivers' crown from Williams rival Jacques Villeneuve in the European Grand Prix finale.
Schumacher and Villeneuve went into the race at Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain separated by just a single point in the former's favour – essentially setting up a winner-takes-all scenario. At the start, Schumacher got the jump on pole-sitter Villeneuve – with the duo having set identical lap times during qualifying, in company with the second Williams entry of Heinz-Harald Frentzen – and led all the way until lap 48, when the French-Canadian went for a move down the inside into the Dry Sac corner.
Schumacher turned in, causing the two cars to collide – but it was the Ferrari that ended up beached in the gravel trap and out of the race, enabling Villeneuve to continue on in a damaged car to take the chequered flag third...and with it championship glory, the first and only time the son of the legendary Gilles Villeneuve would lift the ultimate laurels. For what was widely regarded to have been a deliberate attempt to remove his adversary from the fray and secure the title for himself, Schumacher was largely vilified afterwards in the global media, and the incident was one of a number that left a permanent stain on an otherwise glittering career.
“What would I change in my career?” he mused in response to a question during a special Shell Q&A. “I have some moments that if I could have them again, yes I would do them differently – probably 1997 at Jerez. I would have had a couple of opportunities to avoid all this and still win the championship, but you take your lessons and you learn from them.”
Another lesson Schumacher has learned of late – and a painful one at that, both literally and metaphorically – is that as he gets older, his bones and injuries take longer to heal, following a motorcycling fall at Cartagena in Spain back in February that ended up precluding a famous F1 comeback in place of Felipe Massa at Ferrari this summer as his neck was still not fully healed.
Admitting that the reaction from fans when it was announced that he would be returning to competition after more than two years away from the fray had taken him totally by surprise, the 91-time grand prix-winner again stressed that it would be wise never to say never – even if his words seemed to hint that, now incredibly into his fifth decade, the moment for rejoining the grid has sadly been and gone.
“The response from all the fans came as a huge surprise,” he acknowledged. “I'm thankful for that, because it really gave me something very special. I really appreciate it, and I felt very proud because it came as a result of a long-term relationship and a lot of emotions that we have shared together.
“Why did I stop in 2006? The simple matter was I was tired – I didn't have the energy to continue and I didn't feel there was any point. I didn't regret it; I thought it was absolutely the right decision. I've enjoyed what I've been doing since and I hope I will continue to enjoy it in the future.
“There's lots of talk about me returning to Formula 1. I was very close obviously this year to replacing Felipe, but whether I'm going to race in the future or not, we will see. Definitely it was a big disappointment not to be able to come back this year for Felipe; that was the main reason, because I was just giving a hand to the team who had found themselves in exceptional circumstances. Driving the 2007 car really felt like driving
it – it didn't take me very long to drive the car on the edge, which was something I enjoyed after being out for so long. It didn't take me long to feel good and come back.