- Dan Knutson
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For the first time in a decade, now that Michael Schumacher has retired, there will be only one Schumacher competing in Formula One in 2007.
Michael's driving career in F1 began late in 1991 and ended with the close of the 2006 season. Brother Ralf Schumacher first raced in F1 in 1997, and he heads into 2007 as the sole Schumacher in the lineup. Will that make a difference?
"No," Ralf said.
"To me, I enjoyed it," he added, speaking of being in the same series as Michael for the past 10 years.
With six wins, 21 additional podium finishes, 47 other top-six finishes, six poles, 19 additional front-row starts, and six top-six finishes in the world championship points standings, Ralf has had a pretty decent F1 career.
Of course, as with most F1 drivers, Ralf's statistics pale alongside Michael's incredible records. But the younger sibling is not concerned.
"I was never really [in a position] to go for the championship," Ralf explained. "When I came to F1, he [Michael] was already twice world champion. So I never had a problem with that. I am proud of what he achieved. For me, the target is still open. We are going in the right direction, but we will have to wait and see."
Although Ralf dismisses the pressure of being Michael's brother, Michael said the relationship has made it more difficult for Ralf.
"When I became successful in F1, there were new opportunities for him as well," Michael told the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. "But that doesn't mean he had it easier as a driver in F1. Ralf had to overcome different hurdles, for example, people's expectations. He couldn't be quite so relaxed. I am sure it was more difficult for him than it was for me."
Although Ralf agrees that, like the other drivers, his goal is to win a championship, he said that is not what gets him out of bed in the morning.
"It is the sheer pleasure of what I am doing," he said. "It is easy for a driver who is always winning to motivate himself. The best years I had were when we were going for the podiums and victories."
That period started with Williams in 1999 and petered out in 2004.
Correctly forecasting that Williams was heading for a slump, Ralf signed with Panasonic Toyota in 2005. He's back with Toyota in 2007, and there are options for two more years after that.
"We really have to build up, be patient," he said. "I would love to win a championship, but even if I don't, I still enjoy this. All of us are fortunate to be in this job. I love what I am doing."
In 2005, Toyota scored 88 points and finished fourth in the constructors'
championship. In 2006, the tally was only 35 and the team fell to sixth in the standings.
"In some of the qualifying sessions and in some of the races we were very fast," Ralf told ESPN.com, speaking of the 2006 season, "but we could not really get the results due to a bit of bad luck, reliability issues, safety cars out at the wrong moment things like that happening to us."
Still, Ralf is pleased with the progress Toyota made during the 2006 season once the "B" version of the car made its debut in late May. He is also content with his relationship with the Toyota team, feeling much more at home than he did at Williams.
"I worked for Williams for six years that cost me 10 years of my life!" Ralf quipped.
"It is a moment you never know about. I am sure that happened to Michael, too. He woke up and thought, 'OK, that is it.' "
-- Ralf Schumacher
Getting serious, he said the tension between Williams and engine partner BMW didn't make for a pleasant atmosphere. Williams and BMW split at the end of 2005.
Ralf has been much more relaxed at Toyota.
"It becomes more and more enjoyable," he said. "Driving, working with the team, I feel so comfortable in the Toyota structure that I am really happy now. I enjoyed every single day since I joined Toyota."
Ralf has no intention of following Michael into retirement soon. Michael said he stopped because he just could not sum up the incredible motivation needed. Ralf said his own batteries are still fully charged.
"I am only 31," he said. "But if they would not be, then I would quit. I have never made a fuss about it. I do it as long as I enjoy it. I have been here for 10 years, and they were not very easy years."
Will Ralf still be racing at age 37 the way Michael did?
"I might still race when I am 40," Ralf said. "I have no clue. But it might be that one day I will wake up and say 'I don't want to race anymore.'
"It is a moment you never know about. I am sure that happened to Michael, too. He woke up and thought, 'OK, that is it. I am not going to go through this again every year. I am just going to concentrate on my family and my life.' Which is a brave decision."
"At the moment, I could not even think about making that decision because my life has been motorsports. But then you have a family and two kids [like Michael], and I am sure he made the right decision."
And so the 2007 season will begin with only one Schumacher racing in F1.
Even though there still will be two Schumachers in F1 because Michael will be around working closely with Ferrari as a consultant.
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
Ralf Schumacher said he enjoyed being the other brother in F1. With Michael retired, Ralf plans to go about his business of helping make Toyota a winner, writes Dan Knutson.