From the time it became known that Michael Schumacher would make his all-important announcement following Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the race itself was always destined to be little more than the appetizer for the 'big moment' afterwards.
It is hard to imagine the GP playing second fiddle to any other event in Italy over the race weekend. And, for the legions of tifosi, the GP (particularly with a victory for Ferrari) was again the highlight of the annual racing calendar. For the rest of the world, each successive lap on Sunday brought us closer not to the chequered flag, but to the long-awaited announcement by the most successful driver of his (or any other) era.
Raikkonen and Schumacher on the podium © Reuters
Even if part of the racing world hadn't guessed that Schumacher would retire, or hadn't been informed by ITV commentator James Allen about Schumacher relaying his decision to the team by radio on his slow-down lap, Schumacher telegraphed the decision on the podium. When he leaned over and placed a fatherly hand on Kimi Raikkonen's shoulder during the podium celebrations, the body language was clear. It was a figurative handing over of the Ferrari mantle from king to heir.
Of his five Monza victories, Sunday's was probably Schumacher's most memorable, although perhaps not his best. Monza has been a strange circuit for Schumacher, in that he only performs at his best when he absolutely has to. For his first WDC title in 1994, Schumacher sat out Monza as the first in a two-race ban that saw rival Damon Hill pouch twenty points and tighten up the championship considerably.