Regardless of what side of the GOAT debate you sit on, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are two of the best drivers to ever grace the sport.
They are both seven-time F1 world champions, and their mark on the sport will never be forgotten.
Their paths did cross when Schumacher announced his shock return to Mercedes in 2010, however, a lack of competitiveness from both driver and team meant we didn’t get to see the German at the sharp end of the grid.
Instead, Schumacher’s second career was dominated by a younger German, in Sebastian Vettel.
However, it’s fair to question whether F1 was potentially robbed of having at least two title battles involving Hamilton and Schumacher had the latter not retired from the sport at the end of 2006.
Firstly, why did Schumacher decide to retire?
The Ferrari president at the time, Luca di Montezemolo, was pushing to sign Kimi Raikkonen, with the Italian looking to the future, preparing the team for life without Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, and of course, Schumacher.
With Schumacher’s contract with Ferrari running out at the end of the 2006 season, he wasn’t in a favourable position, particularly if he wanted to dictate his terms to the team.
Schumacher could have stayed on as Raikkonen’s teammate, albeit without clear number one status, but his preference was to remain with the team alongside Felipe Massa, however, di Montezemolo had other ideas.
Schumacher informed team boss Todt at the United States Grand Prix of his decision before announcing it to the world following his win at Monza later that year.
With Schumacher on the sidelines for 2007, it would be Raikkonen and Massa up against reigning world champion Fernando Alonso, and rookie, Hamilton.
2007 and 2008 were titanic years for F1 with McLaren and Ferrari going head-to-head for both titles down to the final race.
In 2007, the internal war between Alonso and Hamilton dominated the title race in the first half of the year.
After the 2007 European Grand Prix – halfway through the season – Hamilton led the standings by just two points ahead of Alonso, while Massa was 11 points off the pace in third, seven clear of Raikkonen.
With just five rounds to go, Raikkonen still trailed Massa by one-point in the standings.
Comparatively, Schumacher was 34 points ahead of the Brazilian at that point one year earlier.
It was clear that while he was still performing at a very high level, Raikkonen wasn’t as comfortable as he was with McLaren in 2003 or 2005.
Regardless, Raikkonen did enough in the final seven races to overturn Hamilton’s significant lead, making the most of McLaren’s implosion amid the ‘spygate’ scandal.
Raikkonen took the title in Brazil as Ferrari were crowned constructors’ champions after McLaren’s disqualification from the championship.
While Raikkonen did ultimately bring it home, Schumacher would have arguably been in a better position to do given the Finn’s inability to dominate Massa in 2007.
2008 is more clear cut given Ferrari had the quickest car in dry conditions.
Had it not been for some misfortune, Massa would have comfortably won the title with an engine failure at the Hungaroring and a fuel hose issue in Singapore costing him big points.
While Massa was at his best in 2008, he still had the tendency to make crucial mistakes (Australia and Malaysia).
Plus, one of Massa’s key weaknesses compared to Hamilton and Schumacher was wet conditions – think the 2008 British Grand Prix.
While it is all hypothetical, there’s no doubt there would have been some intense battles between Schumacher and Hamilton had the German not been squeezed out of the team at the end of 2006.
Whether he would have came out on top is pure speculation, but it would have been something special to have witnessed two F1 greats go head to head in similar fashion to what we saw with Max Verstappen and Hamilton.