Schumacher wins Formula One title with Japanese GP victory

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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher clinched the world Formula One driving title, the first for Ferrari in 21 years by winning the Japanese Grand Prix Sunday.

Michael Schumacher clinched the world Formula One driving title, the first for Ferrari in 21 years by winning the Japanese Grand Prix Sunday.

Schumacher is now 12 points ahead of his closest challenger, Mika Hakkinen, who won the title the last two years for McLaren-Mercedes. There is one race left in the season, the Malaysian Grand Prix on Oct. 22, and Hakkinen cannot catch up Schumacher even if Hakkinen won there.

"It is difficult to find proper words for such a feeling," Schumacher said. "The way we did it - a fight until the last corner - is simply outstanding."

"I understand it's sometimes other drivers' turn to win," Hakkinen said.

Hakkinen ended up second in the race by 1.8 seconds after leading most of the first 37 laps. He then pitted to give up the lead to Schumacher. When Schumacher pitted at the end of 40 laps, he came out ahead of Hakkinen and went on to victory and the title.

It would be the third world driving title for Schumacher, who won with the Benetton team in 1994 and 1995. He moved to Ferrari at the end of 1995 and has been pursuing that title since for the Italian carmaker.

With three world championships, Schumacher joins five other drivers with in the all-time career list in Formula One. Juan-Manuel Fangio of Argentina holds the all-time lead with five, followed by Alain Prost of France with four.

The race began with Schumacher trying to take advantage of his eight-meter head start to veer in front of Hakkinen, who held the inside position heading into the first curve. But the McLaren driver went wide to the inside of the track to avoid the challenge and powered into the lead even as puffs of smoke could be seen from his engine.

Hakkinen was about a second ahead of Schumacher through the first half of the 53-lap race as they pulled away from even third placed David Coulthard in the other McLaren.

Hakkinen stayed ahead through the first pit stops and was ahead by 2.9 seconds after 26 laps. But it started to rain after 29 laps, allowing Schumacher to close the gap.

Then Schumacher was within a second when Hakkinen went in to pit at the end of 37 laps.

Schumacher built up a lead to 26.8 seconds before he went in at the end of lap 40, stayed stationary for 6.0 seconds. When he built up speed coming out of the pits, he was ahead of Hakkinen. At the end of the next lap it showed Schumacher was 4.1 seconds ahead and the race - and the world title - belonged to Schumacher.

Schumacher has 43 victories in Formula One since beginning his career in this series in 1991. He qualified sixth in his first Formula One race, the Belgian Grand Prix, racing for Jordan-Ford. By the next race he was driving for Benetton and he went on to win two world titles for them.

In August 1995 Ferrari announced it had signed Schumacher in an attempt to return to the previous glories when it was considered the top name in racing.

After winning the world driving title nine times, Ferrari's last victory before Schumacher was only in 1979 when Jody Scheckter of South Africa took it.

Ferrari reportedly signed Schumacher for $25m a year in 1995 raising his salary to about $32m more than two years ago.

Schumacher had come close to the title twice before for Ferrari, losing in the final race of 1997 and 1998. He broke his leg midway through the 1999 season.