The first time Michael Schumacher retired he left with the fanfare of a departing superstar — so why was his second coming so disappointing and how will it affect his legendary status now he has confirmed its end?
When Schumacher returned to F1 in 2010 everything was in place for the perfect postscript to a near perfect career. The seven-time world champion had been selected for the starring role as Mercedes' legendary Silver Arrows returned to the sport; he had the resources and momentum of the world championship winning Brawn team behind him; and he was reunited with Ross Brawn himself, a key leader of the Benetton and Ferrari 'dream teams' with whom he had won all his titles. Success, it seemed, was almost guaranteed.
Three years on, however, that has been far from the case.
In terms of results, the 53 Grands Prix since his return have seen Schumacher comprehensively outclassed by team-mate Nico Rosberg, with the younger German taking a 38-15 advantage in qualifying and a 20-14 advantage in the races they have both finished.
The time between the pair in qualifying, however, has averaged just over a tenth and this year, in qualifying and racing, the balance has shifted to a more even level — but that came all too late.
On track, Schumacher has had more struggles than in the past and has been made to look fallible, even ordinary at times. He was certainly not faultless before, but his return has been littered with surprising mistakes, collisions and over-aggressive wheel-to-wheel combat that have often brought his race sharpness into question.
In his first career stint, however, his dominance was such that he rarely dropped back into the pack and his impressive tally of victories were mostly achieved by racing on the limit at the front. It takes a different skill to tone down all-out performance and balance it with the touch needed to race safely with other cars around.
Overall, there is more to the disappointing comeback than him simply losing his edge.
Schumacher has always been committed in every aspect of his racing and his desire to push has not waned. But this time, he has struggled to take that commitment to the limit and drive the car right on the edge.
Since he last raced, the regulations changed and cars became more unsettled. In the past he could place the car exactly where he wanted and know what it was going to do. Now, rather than running on rails, the cars are looser and that has not suited the Schumacher style.
Schumacher's Ferraris were even more planted because of their uniquely close partnership with tyre suppliers Bridgestone, who worked hard on matching their tyres with the Italian marque, and also because the long-nurtured engineering team was on top of its game. This time, there is no special tyre relationship and while Mercedes' technical side now boasts some of the top individuals in their field it has not yet hit the level expected from the collective of its parts.
Fundamentally, Formula One is about car performance — and the cars Schumacher has had in his comeback years are simply not as strong as his title-winning machines. Sure, at Benetton and occasionally Ferrari he had to raise the level of the car to achieve success, but the baseline was not as low as at Mercedes, who have typically sat a tier below top three teams Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.
But the biggest difference between the first and second parts of Schumacher's career is that where once everything within the team was developed with one focus, to give him what he needed to win, now he is on an even field.
In the past, he had the team fully focused on his own title challenge and that, helped by the rewards of success, encouraged him to give that added personal commitment and put in the hours analysing data with his engineers, leaving no stone unturned. Now unable to mould the car to suit him, it has been the master and the limiting factor - and he has admitted his approach at Mercedes has been more relaxed.
There has been a smile with the concentration; his comments more open and his demeanour more dropped shoulders than neck out. And perhaps that, for Schumacher, was what this comeback was all about. Learning to race to enjoy, not necessarily to win.
It is typical for a champion's comeback to not live up to the original success, but with the true champions their legend lives on.
While the return has certainly hurt Schumacher's averages, the raw statistics and the memory of the dramas and success of his original career will always remain.
Mike Tyson will always be remembered as one of boxing's greatest fighters despite his failing later years; Pele is remembered for his success with Brazil rather than his days at New York Cosmos; and so, likewise, Schumacher's legend from the Ferrari days will forever outlive his time at Mercedes.