When Michael Schumacher won his maiden world drivers championship title in 1994, it was during a power transition at the head of the sport. The previous greats had all left F1 within the short span of a couple of years - Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet to retirement, Nigel Mansell to the US, Ayrton Senna as victim of the tragic 1994 accident at Imola.
At the time, it seemed as though nobody in the remaining field would go on to emulate Prost and Senna, let alone outstrip their stellar achievements. Yet Schumacher made full use of the ensuing power vacuum to entrench himself as the sport's leading talent, and to forge a career that not only eclipsed Prost's and Senna's success individually, but approximated the statistical success of their careers combined.
At the conclusion of the 2006 season, the retirement of Michael Schumacher will result in a similar power vacuum at the head of Formula One. Schumacher leaves the sport holding more race wins and championship titles than the rest of the field combined. His exit will open the door to a potentially dominant new talent. Is it thinkable, or even possible, that any driver among the current field could go on to replicate Schumacher's jaw-dropping benchmarks?
Greatness is hard to evaluate empirically, and the whole is often more than the sum of the parts. Still, there are characteristic key strengths that have served Schumacher to outstanding effect throughout his long career.