Season title a mere formality as Schumacher moves 54 points ahead

Monday, July 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SILVERSTONE, England (AP) _ Michael Schumacher has all but wrapped up the Formula One season title.

Sunday's victory in the British Grand Prix gave Schumacher a 54-point lead in the season standings with only seven races to go _ which means only 70 points are still up for grabs.

Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello was second _ 14.6 seconds behind Schumacher _ and Juan Pablo Montoya of BMW Williams was third, 31.7 back.

Montoya expects Schumacher to claim a record-tying fifth season title in two weeks in the French Grand Prix, or on July 28 in the German GP. That would match Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five, all in the 1950s.

Asked if he was thinking about clinching in two weeks, Schumacher said he wasn't aware he could.

``Can I? I don't know,'' he said. ``I haven't calculated my points yet.''

Montoya jumped in to cut off his rival.

``He doesn't really have to think about it. He's got in it his pocket already.''

``Thank you. But let's wait and see,'' Schumacher replied, calling Sunday's victory ``very tricky.''

Sunday's win was the 60th of Schumacher's career and seventh in 10 races this season _ and it was special as Schumacher beat intermittent rain with savvy tire changes and edge-of-the seat driving.

The 60-lapper finished on a dry track as BAR Honda's Jacques Villeneuve finished fourth, followed by teammate Olivier Panis and Nick Heidfeld of Sauber.

They were the first points for Villeneuve, the '97 season champion, since last year's Italian Grand Prix.

``This is a very special win for me for the circumstances, the conditions,'' said Schumacher, whose other win here came in 1998. ``I have not finished first here very often and this was my 60th. We were not expecting rain and I struggled a little bit in the wet.''

Starting third on the grid, Schumacher overtook pole sitter Montoya on the 16th lap _ Montoya's fourth straight pole _ as a mist turned to showers.

Ferrari teammate Barrichello, who was forced to start from last on the grid after stalling on the formation lap, made a daring run to finish second.

``There were times when I was lucky not to crash because of the big speed difference between our cars and some of the opposition,'' Barrichello said.

The victory gave Schumacher 86 points in 10 races. Barrichello has 32, followed by Montoya (31) and Ralf Schumacher (30). Ferrari leads the constructors race with 118 points to 61 for Williams and 37 for McLaren.

Montoya admitted Schumacher was too quick on Bridgestone wet-weather tires.

``In the dry, I could catch Michael but in the wet he was so much faster and I couldn't do anything,'' he said.

Only 11 of the 21 cars finished with a winning time of 1 hour, 31 minutes, 45.015 seconds for Schumacher. The average speed was 125.224 mph.

It was only the second victory in the British Grand Prix for Schumacher, who also won in a disputed finish in 1998 with McLaren winning the next three including Mika Hakkinen last year.

It proved to be a bad day for brother Ralf Schumacher in a Williams, who finished eighth. David Coulthard also had a miserable day for McLaren, finishing 10th. Coulthard won here in 1999 and 2000.

The nearly bankrupt Arrows team, which almost missed the race until team director Tom Walkinshaw paid engine supplier Coswroth $4.7 million, had no finishers. Enrique Bernoldi went out after 28 laps and Heinz-Harald Frentzen after only 20. Bernoldi had a broken driveshaft and Frentzen engine problems.