Off-the-track obstacles may stop Schumi's run

Michael Schumacher was unstoppable, ending the Formula One season in Japan as he opened it in Australia - with a predictable victory. Now the real action begins

updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Michael Schumacher was unstoppable, ending the Formula One season in Japan as he opened it in Australia - with a predictable victory. Now the real action begins off the track: how to slow down Schumacher and Ferrari, make F1 races competitive again and stem one of the worst crises in the sport's half-century history. Ferrari and Schumacher were too good, and Formula One was the loser. With Ferrari winning 15 of 17 races and Schumacher claiming a record 11 victories, TV ratings slumped, sponsors griped, two small-budget teams disappeared and several others flirted with bankruptcy. Schumacher came as close to winning every race as anybody has, becoming the first to finish in the top three in every grand prix. "What we need for Formula One is simple - a race," McLaren-Mercedes team director Ron Dennis said after Schumacher won last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix. But how to get one? Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, the two most powerful men in F1, have proposed radical changes - including giving a weight handicap to the fastest car or having each driver race once for every team. "After what happened with Ferrari this year, we have to put a cap on it," Ecclestone said. "We have to do something to keep the sponsors and viewers happy. We have to be prepared to do something to protect the sport." Both proposals are seen as trial balloons that Ecclestone, the head of F1's commercial side, and Mosley, the president of world governing body FIA, will drop in a trade-off for other changes when the rule-making Formula One Commission meets Oct. 28. One thing seems certain: Without change, Schumacher and Ferrari will dominate again. "For Ferrari to fail, they will need to make a major error in the design of next year's new car, which won't happen," said Niki Lauda, the three-time series champion and team director at Jaguar. Dream run Schumacher piled up F1 records this season: most season victories (11), most points in a season (144), largest winning points margin (67), most career wins (64). Schumacher also won his fifth series title, and third straight, to match the record set in the 1950s by Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio. Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello finished 1-2 in nine races, with the Brazilian winning four. The constructors' title went to Ferrari in a landslide with 221 points, followed by Williams (92) and McLaren (67). And Schumacher gives no hint of slowing down. "Winning is like a drug and I am still hungry for it," the 33-year-old German said. "This is my motivation. I don't know when the next generation of drivers is coming or who will be No 1 because I will be around for quite a while." Get faster. That was Schumacher's suggestion to other teams. "It's for the others to keep up and improve their game, it's not our fault," he said. "In all honesty, I would rather be criticized for being dominant than being too slow." The last time racing's richest sport was this lopsided was in 1988, when McLaren's Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost won 15 of 16 races. McLaren won the next three seasons, too, before Williams ended the run.