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More records beckon Schumacher

Michael Schumacher is powering towards another record-breaking season after claiming Ferrari's 150th win in Canada.

Approaching the halfway point in the Formula One calendar, there is an overwhelming air of inevitability about what the future holds.

Already recognised as the greatest driver of his era and most successful ever in terms of race wins and points scored, the German stands on the brink of equalling Juan Manuel Fangio's hitherto unrivalled five titles.

It has been 45 years since the late Argentine celebrated his last title and Schumacher could emulate him as early as next month if he continues to clock up the wins while his closest rivals slip up.

After eight races, the champion is 43 points clear of his nearest challenger with nine races left.

Schumacher has won six times in 2002, finishing second and third in the other outings, and has accumulated 70 points from a possible 80.

Younger brother Ralf and his Williams team mate Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia are equal second with 27 after failing to add to that tally on Sunday.

To put Schumacher's position into perspective, should any more evidence be required, Mika Hakkinen won his second world title in 1999 with just 76 points while Canadian Jacques Villeneuve needed 81 in 1997.

The German even has sufficient points to be leading the constructors' championship on his own, were that to be possible.

Last season, Schumacher racked up a record 123 points after leaving Canada with 58 and went on to retain the title with four races to spare.

He also managed to equal the record he shares with Briton Nigel Mansell of nine wins in a single season and that benchmark also looks highly vulnerable.

No driver since Fangio in 1957 has won three titles in succession but Schumacher can do that too.

The next race is at the Nuerburgring, on German soil, where he won last year.

Yet, like any racing driver aware of the inherent dangers in the sport, Schumacher refuses to tempt fate.

The memories of 1999, when he broke his leg at Silverstone and wrecked his chances, are still too vivid.

There is also the matter of an International Automobile Federation (FIA) hearing in Paris later this month following Ferrari's controversial use of "team orders" at the recent Austrian Grand Prix.

Schumacher's behaviour on the victory podium, when he pushed team mate Rubens Barrichello up to the top step to take the trophy after the Brazilian had moved aside to gift him a win, could cost him points.

So while others leaped to declare the title race well and truly over, the champion held back in Canada.

"It is no point thinking about it," he said. "We know we have a comfortable lead, we know we have the points we have right now.

"But there is no point in thinking of when we can win it, we just need to make sure we do win it.

"I know that winning this race and having the points makes me obviously quite a step closer to it (the title) but...nine races to go, 90 points to give away and only 43 points advantage.

"Admittedly it is very good, but still not done."

By Alan Baldwin

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