Focus - experience is with Schumacher 25 Sep 2003
Michael Schumacher is the only man able to clinch the 2003 drivers' championship at Indianapolis this weekend. Despite 69 victories, the German still wants to win races badly and many feel that this desire could be his trump card as the season reaches its climax. Three years of being beaten at the last race earlier in his Formula One career has taught Schumacher that history does not love plucky losers, but it adores winners in every shape and size.
Of the three contenders, only Schumacher has been down to the wire in a Formula One World Championship before, to the last seconds of the last minutes of a grand prix season when almost ten months of effort is distilled into decisions made in micro-seconds. He lost out to Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 and then Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999 but then, Schumacher was the deity trying to end two decades of famine for Ferrari and the expectations weighed heavily on those square, lean shoulders. Sometimes, the pressure pushed him to breaking point, like when he infamously exploded in David Coulthard's face at Spa in 1998, or when he turned into Villeneuve's Williams at Jerez in 1997.
But that was then and this is now. According to Ross Brawn, his technical director, those slips won't happen again. "Michael is the only one who has been there and done that. He knows what it feels like to be in the pressure cooker right at the end," he said. "In a way, he has the advantage because he has five titles behind him while the others have everything to lose, so I think he is relaxed. He doesn't look as though he is fretting much to me."
Nevertheless, you can guarantee that of all the drivers, it is Schumacher who will have been on the phone every night to Brawn and his engineers, worrying the last details of improvements out of them, picking ways of tweaking his Ferrari up another notch before he gets to Indianapolis.
That is another of Schumacher's strengths: he loves the detail and his team love him for loving it. He is not just a driver but a team leader and a man who sees his destiny as winning at the wheel of a car carrying the legendary Prancing Horse. This title is no more tortured than any of the toughest he has had to endure in his career and, because of that, he has a complete psychological armoury to draw from, as well as his own astonishing reserves of driving talent. And when push comes to shove, his team will do anything to help him, such is their respect and admiration for a man who has transcended the simple description of "racing driver".
(The above is an edited extract from a much longer feature, available exclusively in the October issue of Formula 1 Magazine, in which different contributors put forward the case for each of the key championship contenders.)