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27 Sep 2006 08:56
Attention this weekend will be focused on the tussle for the Formula One championship as Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso set up a thrilling conclusion to the season.
Schumacher says that thoughts of his imminent retirement will not affect his preparations for the three crucial remaining races of the season, starting in China.
The seven-time world champion announced after winning the Italian Grand Prix on September 10 that he would be leaving the sport at the end of the year.
Schumacher’s title aspirations were boosted by his victory at that race and left the German within touching distance of his championship rival, Renault driver Alonso of Spain.
Two points separate the duo heading into this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix but the momentum is with Ferrari driver Schumacher.
Schumacher has had no doubts about his decision to retire, made earlier this season but only made public at Monza, as he ends his 16-year association with the sport.
“The announcement was agreed a long time ago, with everyone involved, and it was not an emergency,” he said. “I am happy with my decision and, as I said in Monza, I want to concentrate 100% on the world championship fight.
“That is the only things that counts for me—and I am not thinking about anything else at the moment.”
Schumacher’s name dominates Formula One’s record books and he retires from the sport as the most successful driver of the modern era with his haul of seven drivers’ championships unlikely to be bettered.
Last year, however, he relinquished the crown to his spirited young rival Alonso and the German clearly wants title glory one last time before his departure.
“I think we can win the title again but in my eyes I think it will be tight,” said Schumacher. “You should not underestimate Renault and we will certainly not make that mistake.
“We will concentrate on our strengths, doing everything we can and we will give our full energy and commitment for the final three races. Then we will see what the outcome is.
“But again, I believe that we have a very good chance.”
Alonso remains in an upbeat mood despite a resurgent Schumacher’s strong form in the second half of the season and is convinced that Renault can hold off the challenge of Ferrari.
Victory for Alonso in Shanghai last October was enough to seal the constructors’ championship for Renault to add to the drivers’ crown that he had already won.
The Spaniard leaves for McLaren at the end of the year but with races in Japan and Brazil to go, he is not willing to concede any more ground to Schumacher.
“These are the last three races for me with this fantastic Renault team,” said Alonso. “So our motivation to win is enormous, and I think we can do it.”
“We have been saying all year that you cannot predict what will happen on track, with the competition being so close,” he said.
“Instead, we are focused on our objectives, and that means qualifying at the front and winning the race. That will be the target.
“We have to do our job, and I must do 100% with the team. If we do that job well and we deserve the title, then we will win. The important thing in the next races is to give the maximum to the team.”
Kimi Raikkonen, Schumacher’s replacement next season at Ferrari, has his own target for this weekend’s round.
Raikkonen, who is fourth in the overall standings, said: “So far in China, I have finished third and second and my aim for this year is to take the top step of the podium with Team McLaren Mercedes!” - Sapa-AFP
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