Schumacher preparing to equal Prost record

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The Independent Online

A record number of wins and another championship beckon, yet still Michael Schumacher will not be sated. He looks beyond, to further challenges, more distant landmarks.

The German arrived here for Sunday's British Grand Prix holding a 31-point lead over his nearest rival, David Coulthard, in the World Championship. Victory will put him level with Alain Prost, on 51 wins, in the all-time standings.

That, in turn, would present Schumacher with the opportunity to claim the record outright at his home grand prix, at Hockenheim, a fortnight later. Should Coulthard fail to score in these next two races, the Ferrari driver would also have his fourth title.

All these possibilities were dangled in front of Schumacher last night. He perceived them as mere stepping stones, to be negotiated when and if, but leading to still more success, more of the adrenaline-pumping thrill of being the best.

"I will certainly be very proud to have the record and I think I can be very proud of what I have achieved so far, but I am motivated to achieve more and I want to win as many races as I can," he said.

"For me to come to a race and try to win is exciting enough, and thinking of winning the championship is to some degree more exciting than winning my 51st Grand Prix. Once I have done it, I can think about how special that statistic is. And if I set a new record at Hockenheim it will be special.

"But there are too many ifs in Formula One, and I can't even think about winning the championship at Hockenheim. Even if I win these two races, I don't feel Coulthard will be retiring in both of them. I will race as normal. If the choice to win is there, I will take it rather than settle for points.''

He made it clear he would also accept any chance to muscle his way past an opponent at the first corner, as he did recently against his brother, Ralf, at the Nürburgring. Schumacher Snr maintains his parents are content that he and his brother know what they are doing, even if his father Rolf's heartbeat has almost pounded out of control. "They tell us to keep fighting,'' the champion said, smiling. "My father's heartbeat can't go higher than it is.''

His domination of the championship coincides with the demise of his former nemesis Mika Hakkinen, whose future is the subject of much speculation. Schumacher said: "It is totally unfair to discuss his future like this after what he has given to motor sport. He should be given time, even till next season, to make his own decision.'' Hakkinen yesterday denied a report that he was planning to retire at the end of the season and said he was in talks with the McLaren team about a new contract for the 2002 campaign.

* The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power is to pay out on Schumacher winning this season's Formula One world drivers' title, even though there are still seven races to go.