Montoya praying for a miracle to loosen Schumacher's stranglehold

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The Independent Online

The good news for non-Schumacher Formula One supporters is that the champion has a touch of flu. The bad news is that he has got back the lucky amulet that he lost at Silverstone (where, in any case, he won without it), and says he will recover quickly. The likelihood of anyone beating him on his home ground, as Ferrari aim to wrap up the constructors' championship, remains minimal.

The good news for non-Schumacher Formula One supporters is that the champion has a touch of flu. The bad news is that he has got back the lucky amulet that he lost at Silverstone (where, in any case, he won without it), and says he will recover quickly. The likelihood of anyone beating him on his home ground, as Ferrari aim to wrap up the constructors' championship, remains minimal.

"I'm not 100 per cent right," Schumacher admitted, having played in a charity football match on Wednesday evening, "but by Sunday I will be. As for the lucky piece, it comes from my wife and has all the initials of my family on it. It's not highly valuable, but has personal meaning to me. Now it's back in my pocket."

So, in all probability, is Sunday's race, though last year's winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, could be forgiven yesterday for indulging in a little nostalgia as he prepares for another Schumacher tour de force.

Last year Montoya destroyed the champion, exploiting his BMW-Williams's Michelin tyre advantage to the full. "It was a nice win: Schumacher's home race, and BMW's, and it was a win by miles. That was nice..." he said wistfully.

Twelve months later, the Colombian is honest enough to admit that a repeat would be a miracle. Schumacher and Ferrari have won all but one of the 11 races held so far in 2004, and show no sign of relinquishing their stranglehold. Hockenheim has not been the champion's luckiest track - he has had one pole and only two wins here - but this race marks the third anniversary of his last retirement for mechanical reasons.

"The results don't look too great for whatever reason," he admitted, "but coming here I always feel good. I didn't finish so well in England these last few years, and it came good, so here I hope to turn it round too."

Montoya reflected on the bigger picture yesterday. "Is Michael winning all the time good or bad for F1?" he mused. "That depends how the press puts it. If you put it in a good perspective, it's good for F1; in a bad perspective, then it's bad for F1. It's up to you guys. If you say F1 is boring, everybody is gonna see it that way. If you say Michael is winning and setting new standards in F1, and that's a good thing, that's what they'll think."

Schumacher says he could not care less about those who believe his winning streak is monotonous. "I only worry for the people who cheer us up, the fans who support us," he says cheerfully. "I don't worry about the others."

There will be precious few of the latter in any case, as the sea of red floods the motordrome this weekend.

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