Michael Schumacher's departure ensured that 2006 will forever be remembered as the end of a remarkable era in Formula One.
The astonishing list of broken records only tell half the story of Schumacher's reign. Never has one driver enjoyed such a margin of superiority over the majority of his peers for so long. It was entirely appropriate that Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve - two men who earned heroic reputations precisely because they dared to challenge Schumacher from the moment they arrived on the grid - also said farewell to F1 in 2006, albeit in less elegant fashion.
But Schumacher would leave F1 not celebrating an eighth title, but as a defeated championship contender, after finishing second to Fernando Alonso, the driver who had emerged as Schumacher's clear successor. That was never more obvious than in their head-to-head title battle this season, a contest that followed an incredibly tortuous path.
First Alonso looked set for an easy title defence as Ferrari's Bahrain form was undermined by their struggles in Malaysia and Australia. Then Schumacher struck back with a pair of wins, only to see Alonso dominate four consecutive races and establish a 25-point lead while Schumacher sullied his reputation (again) by trying to sabotage Alonso's pole challenge with a crass move in Monaco.