German fans to witness end of an era this weekend?
There's no question that red will be this weekend's most fashionable colour. As always, tens of thousands of Michael Schumacher's loyal fans will flock to the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim clad in the vibrant livery of their hero's team. And regardless of the Ferrari F2005's performance, they will cheer him home.
Yet many reckon there will be another, more poignant edge to the weekend - will this be Schumacher's last home race as world champion? The chances of him retaining the drivers' title this year already look wafer thin thanks to Ferrari's lack of pace against the Michelin-clad Renaults and McLarens. He's fought hard to score four podium finishes this year - with one being victory in the decimated race at Indianapolis - but the relative absence of success has suddenly thrown his age into stark relief. As Formula One's oldest driver, how many more seasons does Schumacher still have left in him? And is Ferrari likely to rediscover its race-winning pace any time soon?
Despite all the adulation he receives from the fans there, Schumacher has enjoyed mixed fortunes in the German race itself. Most other drivers would be delighted to have taken three separate victories at a circuit - but Schumacher's wins in 1995, 2002 and 2004 are nowhere near his record on other tracks - not least the five victories he's taken in Germany's other race, the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, or the six he has scored in Spain.
Only one victory, that in 1995 for Benetton, was taken at the old Hockenheim, the high-speed, high-commitment circuit that was substantially tamed by safety revisions a few years back. His two subsequent wins for Ferrari were both from pole position - and both after Schumacher had already secured the drivers' championship. The 2002 win, his first for Ferrari in front of his home fans, was particularly emotional - not least for the 115,000 spectators who crammed in to watch it.
Schumacher goes to Hockenheim this weekend knowing his chances of adding to his tally of victories there are limited - certainly given Ferrari's pace in recent races. Although not as fast as it used to be, Hockenheim is still one of the quicker circuits on the calendar - meaning that Bridgestone will have its work very much cut out to match the proven pace of the Michelins. Whatever happens here he will end the race as reigning world champion, but with his level of future glory uncertain, it will be a spectacle the German fans may be well advised to savour.