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Schumacher on another level

December 17, 2004 10:54 IST

One day Michael Schumacher will be history and Ferrari's incredible reign as Formula One champions will end.

On the evidence of the past season, that day may still be some way off.

Ferrari were miles ahead of the rest in 2004 and the concern now is that Schumacher, 36 in January, could be an eight or nine-times world champion before he hangs up his helmet.

Rest assured that the Italian team, now constructors' champions for six years in a row, will do everything they can in 2005 to continue domination that some see as a real threat to the sport's well being.

The key people -- Schumacher, team boss Jean Todt, technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne -- are contracted to the end of 2006 and who can doubt that they want to set records that last for their lifetimes, if not eternity?

There is a real fear that rule changes for next season will only strengthen Ferrari's hand, even if they say they are facing a tougher task than ever.

"Ferrari will still be extremely strong," FIA president Max Mosley told reporters at the governing body's gala awards in Monaco last week. "I believe that in December 2005 we'll be here, giving Michael Schumacher another award."


It took 50 years for Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio's tally of five championships to be beaten. Schumacher now has seven and is driving better than ever.

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The German ended 2004 with 83 career wins. That is 70 more than the next most successful active driver in the sport, Briton David Coulthard, and 100 looks entirely possible before Schumacher is done.

He won 13 of this year's 18 races, another record, and scored more points in a single season than any other driver -- collecting 82

percent of the total available.

Three more pole positions will give him the last remaining record of significance, taking him past the late Ayrton Senna's magical 65.

He is a phenomenon but his success is double-edged. The sport will miss him when he has gone but there is also a crying need for more competition.

The Times newspaper recently ran a column headed: "Michael Schumacher: the serial winner who murdered Formula One."

"He is one of the great serial champions of all time and he killed his sport with his brilliance, murdered it with the thousand cuts of excellence," wrote Simon Barnes.

Formula One is used to reading premature announcements of its demise, and there have plenty in a year of off-track upheaval, but Ferrari's rivals could only wonder where it all went wrong in this most one-sided of seasons.

Unlike MotoGP, where crowd-pleasing Italian daredevil Valentino Rossi was also a serial winner after switching from Honda to under performing Yamaha, there was no suspense.

This was not the script that had been rehearsed at the end of 2003, when Schumacher was taken down to the wire before collecting the title.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone tipped McLaren's 25-year-old Finn Kimi Raikkonen to become the youngest champion as others suggested Schumacher was starting to show his age.

Nobody predicted that BAR would end up as runners-up while Williams, who lost Schumacher's younger brother Ralf for six races after a crash at Indianapolis, and McLaren fought over fourth place.


Schumacher and Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello simply blew away the rest in the opening Australian Grand Prix, the German shattering the lap record on his first fast lap in practice, and it was game over.

Even if Italian Jarno Trulli, Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya were winners for Renault, McLaren and Williams, there was never a contest. By Monaco in May, with Schumacher having won the first five races, the bets were off.

"It's hard to imagine any season being better than the one we've had," said Brawn after Ferrari ended the season with a record-equalling 15 wins.

If this was a one-horse race, livened up by Briton Jenson Button's efforts for BAR, Ford woke everyone up with their bombshell sale of Jaguar and engine maker Cosworth.

Minardi and Jordan, both supplied by Cosworth, stared into the abyss before securing their survival while Jaguar were bought by Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz and transformed into Red Bull Racing.

The driver market, shaken by sudden departures and the return of ex-champion Jacques Villeneuve, was thrown into turmoil by a tug-of-war between Williams and BAR over Button.

BAR won, but went through further upheaval with the departure of boss David Richards as engine partner Honda bought into the team.

Mosley announced his retirement and then had a rethink but Olivier Panis did say farewell, leaving France without a driver. The country took consolation in Sebastien Loeb's world rally championship win with Citroen and Sebastien Bourdais's success in Champ Cars.

China and Bahrain made debuts with circuits that were the envy of the world and particularly Britain, whose race was in danger of being axed before a deal on deadline day.

Next year it will be Turkey's debut on a calendar stretched to an unprecedented 19 races.

Montoya has moved to McLaren, providing the fire to counterbalance 'Iceman' Raikkonen, while Australian Mark Webber is now with Williams.

Formula One will be looking to them to come out fighting. The nightmare scenario of Ferrari running away into the distance yet again does not bear thinking about.
Alan Baldwin
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