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Schumacher looks for fifth title

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher could wrap up the Formula One title with an unprecedented six races to spare if he wins in France on Sunday.

Even if the German fails to seal his record-equalling fifth title at Magny-Cours, he should still claim another record that has stood for more than two decades.

Schumacher's 60th career win at Silverstone on July 7 -- his seventh success in 10 grands prix -- allowed him to equal Argentine Carlos Reutemann's record from 1980-81 of 15 successive races in the points.

Unless he fails to finish, and it is almost a year since that last happened and 13 races since he was off the podium, he looks sure to claim the outright record at a circuit that has given him five wins since 1994.

Schumacher leads Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello by 54 points and Williams rival Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia by 55, a margin that means the title race is over if the German wins and the South Americans finish third or lower.

Ralf Schumacher is fourth, 56 points behind his older brother. If they finish one and two, Ralf could equal Michael's points tally in the unlikely event that the Ferrari driver fails to score for the rest of the season.

But Michael would still be champion on wins.

He would be the first to win the title with six races to spare but Schumacher will not mind too much if he has to wait another week until his home grand prix at Hockenheim.

Securing the title there would still make him the first driver of the modern era to secure the title in July -- Briton Jim Clark won the 1965 crown for Lotus on August 1.

The champion said last week that he would prefer to win the title at Hockenheim, but his determination to win every race is stronger still.

"We will try to take it at Magny-Cours, because I would like to win the race," he told the Ferrari web site. "But that on its own might not be enough to win the championship, as it does not only depend on me, but also on what the others will do.

"So it does not really matter if it waits until Hockenheim."

All the others can do is delay the inevitable, since Schumacher could probably put his feet up and still be champion, but there is satisfaction to be had in making him wait.

Ralf Schumacher put his Williams on pole at Magny-Cours last year on his birthday, but had to settle for second in the race behind his brother.

He is determined to do better this year.

The expected hot conditions should be better for William's tyremaker Michelin, whose intermediates were so disappointing in the wet at Silverstone.

"We are improving step by step and the same should be true at Magny-Cours as well. To be honest, I don't feel like congratulating my brother on the world championship victory in France," said Ralf. "I would prefer to delay this as much as possible."

Team mate Montoya, seeking his fifth successive pole, has yet to win this year and will be looking to overtake Barrichello as overall runner-up in the standings.

"Last year the race was not so good for me and I retired from second place," he said. "So I am hoping to score some points this time. My priority is to improve my position in the drivers' world championship standings."

McLaren, who suffered one of their worst showings in recent years at Silverstone, will aim to put in a far more polished performance in France.

So too will Renault, aiming for their first podium of the season in a home race before the company's top management.

Further down the grid, question marks still hang over struggling Arrows, who reached an 11th hour deal to compete at Silverstone but must find the next chunk of cash to pay engine suppliers Cosworth by their midweek deadline.

By Alan Baldwin - © Reuters

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