Schumacher in limbo as wheels drop off Ferrari

The old Michael Schumacher could win races seemingly at will, his scarlet Ferrari head and shoulders above its rivals. His 218 grand prix starts have yielded 83 wins, 63 pole positions, 67 fastest laps, 1,196 championship points and seven world championships. But Schumacher has not won a grand prix for seven months - not since Japan last October.

The old Michael Schumacher could win races seemingly at will, his scarlet Ferrari head and shoulders above its rivals. His 218 grand prix starts have yielded 83 wins, 63 pole positions, 67 fastest laps, 1,196 championship points and seven world championships. But Schumacher has not won a grand prix for seven months - not since Japan last October.

The closest he has come to winning any of 2005's five events was the 0.215sec gap that separated him from Fernando Alonso in the recent San Marino Grand Prix. While Alonso has 44 points, Schumacher has 10.

So what has gone wrong? What has crippled his prancing horse and left it hobbling in the wake of the new breed of Renault and McLaren cars, and the pretenders to his throne, Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen? As he faced the media after his defeat by Alonso in Italy, for the first time the German looked his age: he is now 36, an age at which many champions, if not already retired, are preparing for it.

Alonso is still only 23, Raikkonen 25. In a world where punishing G forces are a fact of life this is a young man's game, and Schumacher's 14-year career at the top is remarkable.

Have Ferrari lost their edge, after setting a record by winning six constructors' championships on the trot since 1999? The answer is: no. All Schumacher needs is the right tyres, and he and Ferrari will win again. McLaren know it and so do Renault. When Bridgestone match Michelin's current ability to make tyres that last for qualifying and a whole race, Schumacher will challenge again.

His lowly performances this season have all been down to inferior tyres. The only time so far that Bridgestone have given him what they had supplied so often in recent years, he was devastatingly fast at Imola.

Much of Ferrari's dominance had been due to Schumacher's brilliance and if you ask the team's sporting director Jean Todt he is in no doubt that his driver is still as deadly as ever.

"He is the world champion. He is a fantastic driver," Todt says. "Very professional, very motivated, very good spirit, a very hard worker. But he deserves a good car and a good team. If he doesn't have that, no matter how good he is, he cannot work. He is a point of reference for the team. He's very mature, he loves driving, it is fantastic to have him."

So, Schumacher may be feeling "tyred" and emotional right now and may well have lost the title already, but before his tyres wore out in Spain last weekend his lap times were very competitive. Only a fool would expect the Ferrari-Schumacher-Bridgestone alliance to be underdogs all season.

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