11/25/2012 06:17 EST | Updated 01/25/2013 05:12 EST

Schumacher ends F1 career with 7th-place finish after 'fun' and 'exciting' final race

SAO PAULO - Michael Schumacher's final race was a bit like the last three years he spent in Formula One after coming out of his first retirement — solid but unspectacular.

That didn't stop the German seven-time champion from thoroughly enjoying what he called an "exciting" Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday before walking away from a sport he dominated for many of his 19 seasons.

"Even under these difficult conditions, my final Formula One race was tremendous fun," he said. "I would once again like to thank the team and all my fans for their support over the past years. I've enjoyed the time we've spent together very much indeed."

F1's most successful driver finished seventh at Interlagos after recovering from a punctured tire that left him a lap down early in the race, earning a final six points to cap off his career.

"What an exciting and eventful grand prix," Schumacher said. "Strangely enough, my last ever Formula One race began with a puncture which pushed me down the running order. But it's always been my philosophy to never give up, there's always a chance, you just have to keep going and seize it when it comes."

The stands at Interlagos were packed with banners and signs honouring and congratulating Schumacher.

The 43-year-old German is retiring for the second time, having quit in 2006 before coming back with Mercedes in 2010.

He struggled in the last three seasons, though, being constantly outpaced by teammate Nico Rosberg and managing only one podium finish, at the European GP in July. He finished 13th in the drivers' standings this season.

Minutes before Sunday's race, he lapped the track with a flag with the words "Thank You." He used the radio to thank the mechanics and engineers he has worked with as well as his fans watching on TV. After the race, members of the Mercedes team wore a shirt thanking him and saying goodbye.

"We thank Michael not only for his tremendous dedication and his racing achievements for our team, but also for those great personal qualities that he manifested at all times," said Norbert Haug, vice-president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport. "The three seasons he spent with us will always serve as a model of team play at its best."

Schumacher lost sixth place on Sunday after being passed by Sebastian Vettel near the end of the race. Vettel went on to clinch his third straight F1 title, and Schumacher was the first to congratulate his fellow countryman after the race.

"I'm very proud of Sebastian and really thrilled for him," Schumacher said.

Vettel, who became the first driver to win three championships in a row since Schumacher did it in 2004, thanked the racing legend "for not defending too hard."

Schumacher is leaving F1 with numbers unmatched by any other driver. He retires with the most wins (91), pole positions (68), fastest laps (77) and most podium finishes (155).

"It's a strange sort of coincidence that I've ended my Formula One career now in P7, which was my first ever qualifying result at Spa-Francorchamps 308 races ago," Schumacher said. "It also occurs to me that I was driving with the No. 7 on my car today and that I have seven world championship trophies in my cabinet."

Vettel, F1's youngest three-time champion and the sport's newest big star, dismissed the idea of one day matching the accomplishments of his childhood idol.

"I don't think I'm commenting on that because it's nonsense," Vettel said. "I think that whatever he achieved in his career is unbelievable. People tend to forget but he was dominant like no other driver ever in Formula One during his time."


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