Schumacher's past shows title not impossible
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Michael Schumacher faces the final curtain of his extraordinary Formula One career in this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix.
In what will be Schumacher's final championship showdown, he still has a chance to snatch the world driver's title away from Fernando Alonso.
Schumacher has been involved in many championship showdowns since making his F1 debut in 1991.
He has won some championships easily and some only after an epic struggle.
He has lost some by as little as a single point and others by substantial margins.
And, most notably in 1994 and 1997, he has won and lost the title under controversial circumstances.
Here's a look at how Schumacher fared in the championship in each of his 16 seasons in F1.
1991: After making his F1 debut late in the season, Schumacher has six starts and places 12th in the final standings.
1992: In his first full season, Schumacher wins his first Grand Prix (of what would eventually be 91 victories!) and finishes third in the championship.
1993: Schumacher scores victory No. 2 and places fourth in the points.
After 1993, with the exception of his shortened 1999 season when he ended up fifth, Schumacher will never finish lower than third in the drivers' world championship.
1994: A tragic, controversial and messy season, with the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger plus all sorts of cheating and rules infraction scandals surrounding Schumacher and his Renault team.
It all ends in controversy in the last race of the season. Schumacher has 92 points to Damon Hill's 91 as they head for Australia, where Schumacher brushes the wall while running ahead of Hill. As Schumacher gets back on the track, Hill dives for the gap on the inside. Schumacher firmly closes the door (he later said he never saw Hill) and they collide. Both cars are out of the race, and Schumacher wins his first of seven championships.
1995: Schumacher wins his second championship easily over Hill, clinching the title after 15 of 17 races. However, controversy and rumors of cheating still surround Schumacher and Renault.
1996: In his first season with what had been an uncompetitive Ferrari team (it had won two races from 1991 through 1995), the championship is out of reach for Schumacher. Still, he scores three victories and places third in the points.
1997: Along with his antics in Australia in 1994, this ranks as the other most-cited foul of Schumacher's career. Heading into the season finale in Jerez, Spain, Schumacher leads Jacques Villeneuve in the standings by a single point.
In the race itself, Villeneuve zooms up on the inside of Schumacher as they approach a right-hand corner. Taken by surprise, Schumacher turns sharply to the right. Photos clearly show his Ferrari's right front wheel turning into the midsection of Villeneuve's Williams.
If they both had retired, Schumacher would have become champion. But while Schumacher's car was stranded, Villeneuve recovered to finish third and become the first ever Canadian F1 world champion. Schumacher says he is innocent of any foul.
Those who had given Schumacher the benefit of the doubt in 1994 find it more difficult to do so now.
In a rather meaningless punishment, the FIA strips Schumacher of all his points for the season but lets him keep his victories (he finished third in the world championship before his points were stripped).
1998: Heading into the final race, in Japan, Mika Hakkinen holds a four-point advantage over Schumacher. Schumacher qualifies his Ferrari on the pole but stalls and causes the start to be aborted. The rules require Schumacher to start from the back of the field. He works his way up to third but retires after hitting debris from an accident.
1999: A crash in the British Grand Prix causes Schumacher to miss the next six races with a broken leg. He returns for the final two races in what turns out to be a fruitless attempt to help Ferrari teammate Eddie Irvine wrest the championship away from Hakkinen.
2000: Schumacher wins Ferrari's first drivers' world champion since 1979. He comfortably wraps up the title over Hakkinen with one race to go.
2001: The second of what would be five straight driver's world championships for Schumacher and Ferrari. He makes it look easy, clinching the crown after 13 of 17 races.
2002: Schumacher sets a record by winning the championship after just 11 of 17 races -- 64.7 percent of the way through the season. He wins a record 13 races in a single year, and Ferrari wins all but two of the races that season.
2003: He has to work hard for this one and doesn't become champion until the season finale in Japan, where he arrives with a nine-point advantage over Kimi Raikkonen. Because of rain in qualifying, Schumacher starts 14th and Raikkonen eighth.
A collision and a pit stop for repairs drops Schumacher to last place. He later is in seventh place when he tangles with brother Ralf.
Raikkonen can be champion if he wins the race and Schumacher finishes ninth or lower. But Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello wins and Raikkonen places second. Schumacher trails home eighth. The final points tally is Schumacher 93, Raikkonen 91.
2004: Another easy one for Schumacher, who cruises to championship No. 7 after 14 of 18 races. His only competition is teammate Rubens Barrichello, and the latter, of course, plays second fiddle. Ferrari dominates with such force that it scores more points than the combined total of BAR Honda and Renault, which finish second and third in the constructors' championship.
2005: Fernando Alonso brings an end to Schumacher's reign. The Ferrari engine-chassis-tire package is off the pace, and Schumacher finishes a distant third in the championship with less than half the points scored by Alonso.
2006: After a rocky start, Schumacher and Ferrari blast back into contention.
During the season, Schumacher shows he has lost none of his speed by winning seven races. And he shows he still will push ethics to the limits by deliberately blocking the track in Monaco to try to ensure that he keeps his pole position. Officials send him to the back of the grid.
At the Italian Grand Prix, where Schumacher announces his retirement, he wins and is now just two points behind Alonso. At the next event, in China, Schumacher drives one of the best races of his career as he charges from sixth to first. He and Alonso are now tied in points.
In the Japanese Grand Prix, the pendulum swings in Alonso's favor as he wins the race and Schumacher retires with his first engine failure since the Malaysian Grand Prix in March 2002.
And so it's on to Brazil where Schumacher faces the final curtain and the final championship showdown of his career.
This will be the fifth time Schumacher has been involved in a title decider in the last race of the season. In the previous four, he lost two and won two.
Alonso has a 10-point lead over Schumacher. With a victory paying 10 points, Schumacher has to win the race, with Alonso finishing ninth or lower and out of the points, in order to close out his career with a record eighth world championship.
"I don't want to win a championship title like that," Schumacher says. "I want to fight for it fair and square."
Yet history has shown that Schumacher wins races and titles almost any way he can.
For the final word on Schumacher's final championship showdown, listen to what former rival Damon Hill told BBC Radio in England: "Michael said he's not thinking about the championship now -- that's baloney. He never gives up. I would keep my armor on if I were Alonso until after the last race."
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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