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Alonso and Schumacher - the mind games begin 28 Jul 2006

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 27 July 2006

The hot and sticky weather might be getting people down, but one thing nobody can complain about is the fantastic psychological war that is building up between world championship contenders Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher.

With only two points between a win and second place, and the Spaniard nursing a 17-point lead with seven races to go, the mathematics favour the former if you take for granted the incredible reliability of the respective Renault and Ferrari. These two marques just seem to be bulletproof right now, which means that other factors must come into play if Schumacher is to have a chance.

One is the performance of his team mate Felipe Massa, respectively second and third in the last two events as Schumacher won. The other is if Schumacher can get into Alonso’s head and make him make mistakes.

In an attempt to pile on the pressure, Schumacher said "I don't think that I have to state how charged up we are. I believe that it is clear for all to see. I can sense the same thing from the team. Our competitive spirit has been reawakened and we want the title.

"Things can change quickly in Formula One and this means that even a big lead can suddenly vanish. We are all focused on our objective - to put pressure on our adversaries, make up ground and win again."

Alonso, however, has remained his usual calm self. It takes a great deal to upset him publicly, and Renault are refusing to let Ferrari’s recent development spurt destabilise them, too.

"I am feeling very optimistic," said the world champion, 25 tomorrow. "We had a strong first half of the season, and they key thing now is to keep going and finalise the job. We are ready. I think we can finish 2006 the same way we started it."

Schumacher would love to win at home, and has urged his German ‘tifosi’ to demonstrate their support (and thus perhaps unsettle Renault). "For every German driver, the home race provides extra motivation,” he said. “The psychological effect of driving here is huge. I always receive great support from our fans at Hockenheim and this lasts for the entire weekend. All the drivers enjoy competing in such conditions. We want to turn the championship red and Hockenheim ought to be the next step. Naturally, we also need the supporters on our side as they are very important."

However, contrary to common perception, he does not believe that the high temperatures will necessarily give him an advantage on his Bridgestone tyres, even though conditions will be similar to those at Magny-Cours where Ferrari’s tyre gamble paid off and Michelin lost out.

“No,” he said, “I don’t see it being an advantage or a disadvantage. Put it this way, we are talking mainly about the tyre side and it seems for both manufacturers that you may hit the point perfectly or you may not, and that’s what decides who’s winning or not winning. But we have got on top of some of our issues with the car and have been able to judge them better, so I hope we can use that to our advantage.

“The competition is very high and it is very easy to go up one side and then fall over the edge on the other side. We have seen it in other races. Really, we have to take each race one by one."