Schumacher faces final curtain call
In the expected tumult of the championship celebrations that will follow Sunday's championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix, one man will linger, take it all in and make a quiet, dignified exit.
Michael Schumacher, veteran of 305 Grands Prix starts, 91 race wins and seven world championships, will bid farewell to a sport he has graced, upset, laced with controversy and at times turned into a processional march through the record books.
When the 43-year-old parks his Mercedes in the team garage on Sunday he will begin his second retirement, three seasons after his return to the sport and after rarely reproducing the speed and aggression of his years at Jordan, Benetton and Ferrari.
But he will do so knowing he has created moments of drama and delivered hints of the talent that once burned so brilliantly.
"This time round, I will be able to pay more attention to my farewell and hopefully savour it too," said Schumacher, when asked to reflect on his feelings ahead of his final race.
"I have had fantastic years in Formula One and a lot of support from fans around the world, and I wish to particularly thank them for that.
"Of course, I would be happiest if I could say goodbye with a strong race and I am sure we will be doing everything we can to make it happen."
For Schumacher's fans, as in 2006, there is an air of disappointment about his exit because it has come not by choice, but circumstance.
When he retired after the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, it was after Ferrari had made clear they were signing Kimi Raikkonen from McLaren.
This time around, it is another McLaren driver, Lewis Hamilton, who has to be accommodated by the German's departure as Mercedes build for the future.
But unlike 2006, Schumacher is not involved in a title battle with Fernando Alonso. Instead, he will be battling to score his first points since the Italian Grand Prix in September and secure a mid-table finish.
"My departure will probably be less emotional for me this time than in 2006, when we were still fighting for the championship and everything was much more intense," said Schumacher.
"I am hoping to do a decent competitive race and to be able to enjoy it."
For the F1 fraternity, even those absorbed by another potentially-thrilling finale to the season between championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Alonso, Schumacher's last race and retirement is sure to be emotionally charged.
After 306 races, few of the drivers are without the bruises to show as proof of their scraps with the man Mercedes team chief Ross Brawn this week described as "probably the best Formula One driver of all time".
Brawn was with Schumacher at both Benetton and Ferrari and is widely regarded as the architect of his seven championship triumphs – a haul that is unlikely to be challenged in the near future.
"It will be an emotional weekend for everyone in the team," said Brawn.
"We have both greatly enjoyed and benefited from working with Michael over the past three years and I would like to pay tribute to his enduring commitment, passion and team spirit.
"The results that we all hoped for over that period have not come to fruition, however the progress that our team has made has been significant and I am confident that we will see the rewards in seasons to come.
"Having worked with Michael for the majority of the 21 seasons of his career, I feel that he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Formula One driver of all time and we wish him the very best with his future plans."
If statistics tell a story, they tell supreme success for Schumacher: 306 races (including Brazil), 91 wins, seven drivers' world titles, 68 poles and 77 fastest laps.
Schumacher bows out with a fitting message for fans on his race helmet: "Life is about passions – Thank you for sharing mine."