| Michael Schumacher sprays the bubbly after winning the US Grand Prix on Sunday. (Reuters)
Indianapolis: Michael Schumacher arrived in the US looking for a Formula One showdown and he left on Sunday with one rival’s title hopes dead and buried and another’s barely alive.
The Ferrari hot shot must wait two more weeks for his unprecedented sixth crown but his US Grand Prix win killed off the challenge of Williams’ swashbuckling Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.
Only Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, 11 years the German’s junior, remained a potential danger as Formula One’s closest championship duel in years suddenly looked like a foregone conclusion.
One point is all Schumacher needs.
“We still have a chance in Japan but it’s more difficult now,” 23-year-old Raikkonen told reporters.
Schumacher has won for the last three years in Suzuka and will again be favourite on October 12. He has 92 points to Raikkonen’s 83.
Ferrari also regained the lead in the Constructors’ Championship, although that battle is far closer with Williams three points behind and 18 at stake. Raikkonen’s McLaren team are now out of contention in third place.
Schumacher refused to take anything for granted, even though history clearly beckoned. “Obviously, it’s a very good position for us to start the last race,” he said. “We just need one point basically. But you never know.
“It was just outstanding in Monza,” he said, referring to his last win in Ferrari’s home race. “This tops it again. Who knows what will be the next'
“I’m just so delighted and happy about the way things have gone. If you see everything, the amount of pressure that is on is still there, although you handle it. It’s just so beautiful when you get the result in like that.”
The irony of this most unpredictable of seasons is that Ferrari, whose runaway dominance last year led to a major rewriting of the rule book, are close to turning the clock back to where it was.
Equally important, the luck that seemed to have deserted Schumacher had clearly returned.Tyres were critical and Bridgestone, outgunned by Michelin in the European heatwave, came into their element in the colder North American conditions.
Suzuka, Bridgestone’s home track, is unlikely to offer Raikkonen as much of a chance as Indianapolis but his team were still ready to clutch at any straws.
“There is still a tiny chance to win the world championship and that means that we will continue to fight in the last round at Suzuka,” said Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug.
Drivers: 1. Michael Schumacher (GER) 92pts, 2. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) 83, 3. Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) 82, 4. Ralf Schumacher (GER) 58, 5. Rubens Barrichello (BRA) 55, 6. Fernando Alonso (SPA) 55, 7. David Coulthard (GBR) 45, 8. Jarno Trulli (ITA) 29, 9. Mark Webber (AUS) 17, 10. Heinz-Harald Frentzen (GER) 13, 11. Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) 12, 12. Jenson Button (GBR) 12, 13. Cristiano Da Matta (BRA) 8, 14. Nick Heidfeld (GER) 6, 15. Olivier Panis (FRA) 6, 16. Jacques Villeneuve (CAN) 6, 17. Marc Gene (SPA) 4, 18. Ralph Firman (GBR) 1, 19. Justin Wilson (GBR) 1
Constructors: 1. Ferrari (147 points), 2. Williams-BMW (144), 3. McLaren-Mercedes (128), 4. Renault (84), 5. Sauber-Petronas (19), 6. BAR-Honda (18), 7. Jaguar-Cosworth (18), 8. Toyota (14), 9. Jordan (13).