Well, the cat’s out of the bag now: this will be my last Japanese Grand Prix as a Formula 1 driver. After long and careful consideration, I’ve decided to retire from F1 at end of the season. Who knows, this time maybe really forever!
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But joking aside, I haven’t taken the decision lightly. I thought long and hard about whether I can still muster the motivation and especially the energy for another one or possibly two years competing at the highest level in Formula 1, with everything that involves in terms of travel, pressure to succeed and missing out on other things in life.
My mind is made up: I’m leaving Formula 1 at a time when I am still able to compete with the best drivers in the world and can match them for performance. I don’t find that upsetting; on the contrary, it’s a relief. Unfortunately, my comeback over these past three years has not been quite as successful as the team and I had hoped for.
But that’s part of the process when you’re building a new team. The road is long, which is something I became aware of during my time at Ferrari. I’m proud of what we have achieved so far, even though it hasn’t resulted in any race wins for me personally along the way.
I wish Lewis, Nico and the team all the best for next year. I hope that they will be successful as they continue along the route that we have shared so far, and that they will soon be harvesting the fruit from the seeds we have sown in the past three years.
Even though this recent period hasn’t yielded the same level of success as my first stint in Formula 1, I’ve still learnt a lot and improved. When I first came into Formula 1, the focus was on me immediately and I constantly felt under pressure. That was difficult to deal with.
At the end of 2006, I felt that my batteries were drained, and I didn’t want to carry on. During my brief retirement, I felt the energy coming back, and when I returned at the start of the 2010 season, I realized that I could open up and enjoy racing without losing focus. That had not been the case during the first part of my career, because I didn’t have the experience then that I have now.
Now, all the matters to me are the last six Formula 1 races of my long career, starting with the Japanese Grand Prix here at Suzuka, on a track that every driver loves. It’s one of the highlights of the racing calendar. Additionally, I have great memories associated with this circuit, most prominently, of course, my first title with Ferrari in the 2000 season.
I like this track with all the great features that offer us drivers such a unique challenge. One other special characteristic of the weekend is the incredible passion of the local fans. They live for Formula 1, and I really enjoy the infectious nature of their enthusiasm.
Also, I’m a big fan of Japanese food, so that’s an added attraction of this fixture. Logically, I would like the race weekend to culminate in a sporting success, though the chances of that are obviously diminished by my grid penalty. I’ve always looked on circumstances like this as a challenge, however, so why should it be any different in my last few races?