Will Schumacher be crowned comeback king? 25 Aug 2006
With the season entering its closing rounds, the stage looks set for one of the closest drivers' championships in recent years - now everyone is asking whether Michael Schumacher really can manage to come from behind to clinch his eighth world title?
For the 37 year-old German, and his millions of fans worldwide, victory would be the perfect riposte to those who had pretty much written off his chances during Renault's early-season dominance - bear in mind that after Silverstone, Fernando Alonso held a 23-point margin over Schumacher and the Spaniard's retention of his world championship crown looked pretty much assured.
But that's no longer the case. Ferrari's dramatic improvement in recent form has been accompanied by a corresponding slump in Renault's fortunes, and now Schumacher has closed to within just 10 points of Alonso. And with five races still to go, the outcome currently looks too close to call - but Schumacher certainly has momentum on his side at the moment.
If he is to clinch the world title then he will have to do something that he has never done before - come back from a still significant points deficit during the closing stages of the season. In only one of his previous championship-winning years was he still trailing in the standings with five races remaining, and that was back in 2000 when he was just two points behind McLarens Mika Hakkinen.
But can he really do it? Ferrari certainly seem to have found the pace they requires to get the job done - at least for as long as Bridgestone manages to keep slightly ahead in the tyre war with Michelin. In Felipe Massa, he has the consummate Schumacher team mate - fast, loyal and - most assume - prepared to sacrifice his own prospects for the good of his colleagues title chase
If Schumacher does become 2006 champion it will be a victory earned against one of the toughest opponents he has faced during his career. Remember, Alonso has to lose the championship almost as much as Schumacher has to win it, and the Spaniard's reserves of determination and mental resilience are such that he's unlikely to crumble before Schumacher's onslaught. For as long as Renault can find anything approaching competitive pace, anticipate the title chase going all the way to the wire.
For a man who has often said that records mean nothing to him, Schumacher now seems to be in grave danger of breaking his own remarkable record of seven drivers' titles. Statisticians have also noted that he's now only 11 victories away from having stood on the top step of the podium 100 times. With his renewed desire to win and undiminished pace it's looking increasingly likely that he could mount a serious challenge on scoring a century during next season. For some contrast, the next most successful driver of all time is Alain Prost, who managed to notch up 51 victories during his own distinguished career.
The Schumacher era is seemingly far from over.