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19 Oct 2006 20:44
And then there was one. One race, this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, the final race of the Formula One season to decide the drivers’ title between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher.
One race to determine the team crown between Renault and Ferrari.
And one last race in Schumacher’s career.
Alonso clinched the title in Brazil last year when it was the third-to-last race of the season.
This time he needs one point—or Schumacher not winning—to make it two in a row.
“Sometimes it is more difficult to get one point instead of getting the win,” Schumacher said.
He should know.
Even though the Spaniard has a 126-116 points lead, Alonso said he’s not counting on the title yet. Victory is worth 10 points. “I don’t think it is over at all,” the defending champion said this week. “Until the final lap, when you know you are champion, anything can still happen and we are taking nothing for granted.”
Schumacher knows. He had a chance to virtually seal his eighth championship in the Japanese Grand Prix on October 8, but his engine blew.
With that, Schumacher all but gave up hope. “The drivers’ title race is finished for me,” he said. “I don’t want to build up my hopes on somebody retiring.”
However, Alonso suffered the same fate at the Italian Grand Prix two races earlier, when Schumacher won.
The constructors’ race has Renault leading Ferrari 195-186 with points for both drivers counting. A first and second is 18 points total. Third and fourth count 11 points. The top eight places gain points.
“I think our aim has to be to do a normal weekend, to get the maximum from the car without any big risks, and to finish the job,” Alonso said.
Alonso helped the championship race become exciting when he squandered a 25-point lead from the 10th to 16th races until he won the last race in Suzuka.
Schumacher, who won five races in that span, announced last month that this would be his final season, and since then he has avoided any direct talk on his pending retirement.
“At the moment I am not thinking so much about it. Occasionally it comes up and I feel strange about it.” Schumacher said. “In general, I am pretty relaxed. In general, it is pretty much business as usual. I will deal with this race as a normal one.”
Since the setback in Suzuka, he has focused more on the team title, where Ferrari have a better chance. “From the team’s point of view we can only do the maximum job and that’s to finish 1-2,” Schumacher said. “Then we have to see what the others do and whether that’s enough for us to win the constructors’ championship or not.”
He recalled when he trailed 84-59 and tied it at 116 with two races to go.
“Whoever is able to turn around a situation like the one we found ourselves in this year, climbing back to the top and working extremely hard and passionately, merits huge respect,” Schumacher said.
His Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa, is third in the drivers’ standings with 70 points, just one ahead of Alonso’s teammate Giancarlo Fisichella.
Massa said he would give up a chance to win his hometown race if it helped Schumacher take the championship. “It won’t be a problem to help him, I’ll be glad to,” he said.
On the other hand, the outcome would be interesting if Fisichella were in eighth place—the last position for points—ahead of Alonso with the title for Renault in the balance.
The team title is worth more financially from the International Automobile Federation.
Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren has a slight chance to move up with 61 points. He was second in the last two Brazilian races to Juan Pablo Montoya, who has moved on to Nascar.
Raikkonen had the win taken away in the 2003 Brazilian race when rain caused confusion about who led when it was stopped. Fisichella, then driving for Jordan, was declared the winner a few days later.
There was rain on Thursday and rain is forecast for Friday, but clear weather is expected for the weekend.
There is practice on Friday and Saturday morning on the 4,3km Interlagos circuit. Qualifying is on Saturday afternoon and Sunday’s race is 71 laps.—Sapa-AP
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