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Schumacher faces title fight all the way to Japan
Alan Baldwin | September 15, 2003 17:46 IST
Ferrari's rivals have warned Michael Schumacher to expect a fight all the way to the last chequered flag, even though he could win his record sixth Formula One title at the next race.
There is no margin for error for any of the three championship contenders with two races left and seven points splitting Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen.
With Schumacher roaring back to his best to win Ferrari's home race in Italy on Sunday, the German could be celebrating at Indianapolis on September 28 if he wins and Colombian Montoya and Finland's Raikkonen fail to score.
Schumacher has 82 points, Montoya 79 and McLaren's Raikkonen 75.
In the constructors' standings, Montoya's Williams are four points clear of Ferrari.
Schumacher's win was his first since June, ending a five-race losing streak, but his fifth of the season and 50th as a Ferrari driver.
He had no doubts about the battle ahead:
"I think it's pretty open and it's going to be very interesting...We will keep on improving," he said. "It just matters now in the final stage who improves more than the other.
"Our engine guys have done a tremendous job and the engine that we have should help us everywhere.
"I think we will be competitive for the last races, not only for here."
Team boss Frank Williams agreed the battle would only get hotter. "Ferrari will be putting more coals on their fire for the next two races, so will we," he said.
"We've got a stiff test for the next two races."
Mario Theissen, motorsport head of Williams' engine partners BMW, said: "I'm quite sure that the next race will be tougher and the final one will be tougher again just because of the situation in the championship.
"Monza is certainly very demanding on the engine, but what we saw here was two teams heads-on on a fast track.
"I expect at Indianapolis and Suzuka that McLaren and Renault will be part of the game as well.
"I am expecting two very exciting final rounds and I'm sure we will see the decision only in the last race...I'm sure it will be the luckiest guy who wins and the luckiest team."
Williams and Montoya may not be able to count on the support of his team mate Ralf Schumacher, Michael's younger brother, at Indianapolis.
Ralf missed Monza, returning home to recover from the after-effects of a major crash in testing the previous week, and was replaced by Spaniard Marc Gene. There are doubts about when he will return.
"It's not certain that Ralf will be back for the next race," said Williams.
"There's no political message in that, it's just that it's obvious the concussion was strong and it was clearly, with hindsight, premature I suppose to have him in the car. That may have set him back a little bit.
"He's desperate to get back in the car, but I think he may have to miss the next test, God forbid. I don't know. But you don't mess around with your brain, do you? As long as you've got one."
Williams added that he had total faith in Montoya, who was now a far more mature driver than he had been at the start of the season.
The Colombian, who ran an intelligent race on Sunday and did not put a foot wrong, is confident he can turn the tables on Schumacher.
"I only lost two points to Michael and I'm three points behind him and it's not over," he said. "We're still right there in the championship and the next race could be the other way round. We'll see."