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More changes in 2004


Michael Schumacher won a record sixth Formula One world championship in 2003 - but just barely - and more changes to Formula One are planned in 2004.

In 2002 he wrapped up the title by midsummer. This time he won by a scant two points, scrambling to eighth place in the final race in Japan to edge McLaren's Kimi Räikkönen by two and Juan Pablo Montoya of Williams by 11. New rules to prevent a Ferrari runaway worked as planned. Seven drivers scored more than 50 points and eight won races. Montoya won twice including Monte Carlo and probably should have won the overall title.

The Colombian went into the penultimate race of the season - the U.S. Grand Prix - trailing Schumacher by only three points. Running as high as second place from the start in Indianapolis, Montoya was penalized after two laps for bumping Schumacher's teammate Rubens Barrichello. After the drive-through time penalty, Montoya dropped to 11th, never caught up and eventually finished sixth with Schumacher winning. Montoya knew what happened.

"It's sad to lose my drivers' championship chances this way," he said. "You don't win anything until you cross the line. The car was quick, we had the constructors' title in the bag. Then I got a penalty ... and in two minutes everything disappeared."

Schumacher won 11 times in 2002, but only six in 2003. He failed to reach the podium in the first three GPs - Australia, Malaysia and Brazil - and complained about new qualifying procedures and other rule changes. But he won when it counted, driving the latest Ferrari model - F2003-GA -named for the late Fiat chairman and Ferrari lover Giovanni (Gianni) Agnelli, to a fifth straight constructors' title.

Ferrari scored 158 points followed by Williams (144) and McLaren (142).

Schumacher won two in a row down the stretch, allowing him to stumble in Japan and still surpass Juan Manuel Fangio's standard of five titles claimed in the 1950s. Schumacher said he'd established a new benchmark, not erased an old one.

"You can't take a personality like Fangio and compare him with what has happened today," he said. "There is not even the slightest comparison. What he did stands for itself and what we do today is unique in another way. I have a lot of respect for what Fangio achieved but I don't even want to compare to myself."

Schumacher will be 35 when the new season begins but says he has no plans to retire. "Just understand I love this sport, I really love it," he said. "There's no reason for me to quit, especially as I'm still competitive."

The season may have been the last for former world champion Jacques Villeneuve, who pulled out of the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix after being replaced at BAR Honda by Japanese driver Takuma Sato. Villeneuve acknowledges his F1 career is probably over and won't return in anything but "a top car." His manager Craig Pollock was unsuccessful in trying to land the Canadian with Jaguar. Villeneuve, 32, won the world title in '97 with Williams, but was dropped by them and moved to the first-year British American Racing team in 1999 after failing to win a single race with Williams in '98. The change didn't pan out. After winning 11 races in his first two seasons at Williams, he never won again in five disappointing seasons with BAR, where he was paid about US$12 million annually.

"I still regard him as a great racer but he needs a team that would give him extra motivation," F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said.

Changes are afoot in Formula One for 2004. Two new races have been added in Bahrain and China. Turkey and India are being mentioned down the road as F1, faced with tobacco advertising restrictions in Europe, moves away from its traditional base. After a season of one-lap qualifying, a two-lap system will be used in 2004.

The driver lineup for the top four teams - Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault - remains the same. In addition to changes at BAR, Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa are in at Sauber and Nick Heidfeld and Heinz-Harald Frentzen are out. Jaguar has named 20-year-old rookie Austrian Christian Klien to replace Englishman Justin Wilson. Klien, who has never driven an F1 car until November tests in Spain, will team with Mark Webber.

Montoya is sticking with Williams in 2004, but has announced he's moving to McLaren in 2005 in a two-year deal worth a reported US$10 million a year. This will double his salary - his chief complaint at Williams where Ralf Schumacher earned twice as much. That leaves Williams with a vacancy in 2005. Several names are being mentioned, including Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari, Jenson Button at BAR, or Fisichella at Sauber. Williams has also given recent tests to the sons of former world champions at Williams - Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jr.

Montoya says the move won't change a thing in 2004.

"It won't make any difference," Montoya said. "Williams and BMW were 100 percent behind me and I still believe they are. I will be the same as long as I am in a Williams car and still give it everything. There were no problems at Williams, it was just that a new opportunity came up and I thought I could try something different."

The move is expected to see David Coulthard leave the team with Montoya teaming with the talented Räikkönen. "I just have to beat him," Montoya said. "That's my job."


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