SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Sept 3 (Reuters) - The decades have dimmed none of Michael Schumacher’s fighting spirit as Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel discovered in his fellow German’s 300th grand prix around his Belgian ‘living room’ on Sunday.
The two tussled on track, and almost collided when Schumacher’s Mercedes suddenly swerved right into the pitlane across Vettel’s Red Bull that was turning into the left-hand corner.
The stewards took no further action, on an action-packed afternoon that kept them busy, and Vettel clearly considered that to be the right reaction.
“It doesn’t matter where you get Michael on the circuit, whether you’re fighting for P1 (first place) or P15, he will fight like hell which is great to see,” Vettel told reporters after finishing second.
“He hasn’t lost it. It obviously makes it hard for you but it’s always a great challenge. It’s very close with him but always fair.”
Schumacher, who had posed with Formula supremo Bernie Ecclestone and team bosses with a cake to mark his milestone after qualifying on Saturday, ended up seventh at his favourite circuit after starting 13th.
The seven times champion, the sport’s most successful driver with 91 race wins, was hampered in the closing stages when he lost sixth gear after his second stop.
“I quite enjoyed my 300th race and it was good fun out there with all the battles,” he said.
“In the end, you have to be realistic and getting into the points from where I started is not too bad, even if you obviously hope for more when I was second at one stage.”
Schumacher made his F1 debut at Spa in 1991, with Jordan, and took his first race win there the following year with Benetton.
He has not won a race since 2006, with a third place in Valencia this year his only podium, and whether he returns next year is a matter of considerable speculation.
The 43-year-old, who retired from Formula One in 2006 while with Ferrari and then came back with Mercedes in 2010, is out of contract at the end of the season and has said his future should become clearer next month.
It could be that he has already decided.
“I’ll be sad to see him go, I would’ve liked to see him win again,” Ecclestone told BBC television on the grid before Sunday’s race.
Pushed whether that meant he thought Schumacher would be retiring, the 81-year-old Briton said he did not know. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by John O‘Brien)