Senna landmark leaves Schumacher in tears

The spectre of death shrouded the entire day at Monza yesterday. The uninhibited joy Michael Schumacher radiated from the top of the rostrum after his victory turned to tears when he realised that he had equalled the 41 Formula One victories achieved by the late Ayrton Senna.

The spectre of death shrouded the entire day at Monza yesterday. The uninhibited joy Michael Schumacher radiated from the top of the rostrum after his victory turned to tears when he realised that he had equalled the 41 Formula One victories achieved by the late Ayrton Senna.

Schumacher, by his own admission, has not been embraced here in the homeland of his team, Ferrari, with the kind of affection the tifosi lavish on their greatest heroes.

He recently said in an interview with The Independent: "I'm probably too German for a lot of the tifosi. Too serious, not enough ups and downs, not enough emotions. People love that, particularly in Italy."

Yesterday the Italians saw a different Schumacher as the cold, distant and arrogant image melted. As a result, regardless of the outcome of the remaining three races this season, Schumacher has forged a bond that he never dared imagine with those fans. Thousands of them streamed on to the track at the end.

The warmth generated by his first victory for three months might have been enough to reveal this Schumacher. The reminder that he was now joint second with Senna, behind Alain Prost, in the list of all-time winners, proved more than he could bear. "I'm just happy and exhausted," he said. "Yes, it does mean a lot..."

He was unable to finish the sentence. He lowered his head and cried. Hakkinen, a resigned second here, and Schumacher's younger brother, Ralf, third for Williams, consoled him. Twelve months ago Hakkinen himself had been reduced to tears here after spinning out of the race. This time Schumacher's anguish was witnessed by millions of viewers.

He later composed himself to continue: "It is obvious why this win means so much, here in Italy. We have been in some difficulties in the last few races and now we are back on the road. It is my 41st victory and the crowd outside has just been amazing, much more so than when I won here in 1998. I don't know why.

"There is certainly a sense of relief to be back near the top of the championship and on the road to victories. I have no dedication to make to anyone but the 500 people working on this project who played their part in this victory."

He was unwilling, even now, to be led into dedicating his success to Senna. That would have been too obvious, too cheap. And yet the memory of the Brazilian would not go away. Schumacher was asked again. "At certain moments you must accept some questions will not be answered," he said. "This is one of them."

Schumacher had broken down and wept six years earlier, when he learned of Senna's death at the San Marino Grand Prix on Italy's other Formula One circuit, Imola. That was in the privacy of the Benetton motor home and on that day, also, Schumacher won the race.

The German has given himself a chance of equalling Senna's haul of three world championships, although Hakkinen retains the advantage and says he is confident that he can complete a hat-trick of titles.

The Finn has never won here but maintained that he was not jinxed. "I don't believe in black magic," he said. "Maybe one day I'll do it at Monza."

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