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Schumi a point from record sixth title
September 29, 2003 08:58 IST
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher was a point short of a record sixth Formula One championship after winning a wet and wild US Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German, ever the rain master, steered clear of the controversy and chaos that blew away Colombian rival Juan Pablo Montoya's title hopes to claim the 70th victory of an extraordinary career.
Schumacher now has 92 points and a nine-point lead over McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen with just the Japanese Grand Prix remaining.
Williams' Montoya, a crowd favourite and many people's pre-race title tip, has 82 points after finishing sixth but cannot catch Schumacher now.
The swashbuckling Colombian, winner of the Indy 500 at Indianapolis three years ago, had his hopes dashed by an early drive-through penalty and left the Motor Speedway without talking to reporters.
The closest championship in years suddenly looked like a foregone conclusion, all over bar the shouting.
"A very disappointing race, basically decided by the penalty I was given for the accident with Rubens," the team quoted Montoya as saying in a statement.
"In fact it started to rain hard just when I was given my drive-through penalty, which forced me to delay by one lap my pit stop to change on to wet tyres."
Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen was third for Sauber, the team's first podium of the year and his first since Indianapolis in 2000, with Italian Jarno Trulli fourth for Renault.
Germany's Nick Heidfeld was fifth for Sauber, Montoya sixth, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella seventh for Jordan and Briton Justin Wilson picked up the final point for Jaguar.
That result means Schumacher needs only to finish eighth at Suzuka, where he has won for the last three years, to claim his unprecedented sixth title on October 12.
He said he would not be playing safe in Japan.
"We just need one point, basically, but you never know," said Schumacher. "To be first, first you have to finish. My target will be to win another race."
"This is such an emotional day today, so fantastic after a not very great qualifying performance… there was everything in it today and to win this at such a crucial stage in the championship means a lot.
"Our tifosi (fans) just carried us to this success."
Raikkonen said he had not given up hope of catching Schumacher. "We lost the race because we were very unlucky today with the weather but what can you do?" he said.
"But you never know, maybe we'll have a very different race in the last one and it all can happen."
On a day of constantly changing fortunes, but the rain gods favouring Ferrari, it seemed for much of the race as if Schumacher was destined to leave Indianapolis with the title.
But Raikkonen ensured the battle remained alive, if only with the weakest of pulses, with a tenacious second place from pole position after leading the first 19 laps.
Ferrari also regained the lead in the constructor's championship, with 147 points to Williams' 144.
Montoya's hopes were destroyed by a third lap incident with Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, ironically one of his best friends in Formula One.
The two cars touched and Barrichello spun into the gravel and out of the race, although the blow to Ferrari's hopes of retaining the constructors' crown lessened when Montoya's team mate Ralf Schumacher went out 20 laps later.
"Montoya touched the kerb, and the kerb was humid, and he slid down into me," said the Brazilian. "Or he didn't want to lift because the space was there."
A brief flurry of hail preceded the race and heavy rain fell on lap 21, leading to confusion with cars spinning and skating across the track.
Australian Mark Webber led for Jaguar after the frontrunners pitted and when he spun off Briton Jenson Button took over at the front until Schumacher passed him on lap 38.
The BAR driver, still to score a first podium finish, retired with smoke billowing from the rear of his car on lap 41 while running second.