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Schumacher steps up alongside Fangio

Michael Schumacher has made Formula One history and brought back memories of the golden age of grand prix racing when Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio ruled the road.

Half a century and light years of technology separate Fangio's era from the modern Ferrari driver's, with the late great taking the first of his five titles in 1951, but in the heart of rural France far from the passionate and historic motor racing temples of Monza or the Nuerburgring, Schumacher stepped up to take his place alongside Fangio and bridge the divide.

His 61st career win, and eighth in 11 races this season, made the German the first man to equal Fangio's achievement in 1957 of five championships.

He was also the fastest -- the first to win with six rounds to spare, the first to win in the month of July and the only driver other than Fangio to take three titles in a row.

Schumacher had tears in his eyes as the achievement sunk in and he acknowledged the applause of fans -- some of whom may well have booed him earlier in the season after the controversial Austrian race.

Comparisons with Fangio have followed him ever since he secured his fourth title in Budapest last August and once again he considered and declined them.

Schumacher, who drove a 1950s Ferrari in a demonstration at Silverstone last season, has always said that the two eras cannot be compared and has expressed his awe at the conditions and dangers Fangio had to deal with.

"I feel... that what Fangio has done in his times is not comparable to what we do," he said on Sunday, reflecting briefly on the days when drivers raced without seatbelts or flameproof overalls.

Where oil and dirt would have streaked Fangio's face, protected by little more than goggles and a light helmet, Schumacher had champagne and sweat after his day's exertions at Magny-Cours.

"I think the effort he had to put in at the time was probably quite a lot more, just being a driver, than these days where you have so many people around you, where you have a lot more teamwork than you had in the past," he said.

Schumacher, with a Ferrari contract to the end of 2004, could well go on to win a sixth or even seventh title and break more records. The outstanding driver of his generation added more to his collection on Sunday and reinforced existing milestones.

He has 10 more wins than the next most successful driver in history, Frenchman Alain Prost. Sunday's victory was his 16th points scoring finish in succession, beating Argentine Carlos Reutemann's 15 with Williams in 1980-81.

It was also be his 108th podium appearance, another record he claimed at the last race at Silverstone, and extend his unprecedented points haul to 897 -- nearly 100 more than Prost managed in his 199 races.

Other records held by the German include the most fastest laps -- 47 in 173 races -- and the most successive podium appearances -- 13.

Schumacher currently shares the record for wins in a single season -- nine -- with Briton Nigel Mansell but that could also be broken before the summer is over.

However Mansell's 1992 record of 14 poles in a season looks set to stand the test of time as does Brazilian Ayrton Senna's 65 career poles. Schumacher has 46.

Schumacher's points tally last year of 123 was a record for a single season and the Ferrari ace has already scored 96 out of a possible 110.

The German is the most successful Ferrari driver ever, his 42 wins for the team eclipsing the 15 scored by Austrian former champion Niki Lauda.

By Alan Baldwin

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