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Interview: Ralf backs brother to title

Ralf Schumacher in Tokyo before the Japanese GPRalf Schumacher is backing big brother Michael to win a record eighth drivers' championship and leave Formula One on a high.

Michael is locked in a fierce battle with Renault's Fernando Alonso with two races left, but despite reports of an icy relationship between the brothers, Ralf was quick to give Michael a clear edge.

"Michael has the chance - he knows it," Ralf told Reuters before Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix. "He missed it last year, and he's desperate to win the title this year.

"From a package point of view, you have to say Ferrari are clearly stronger and Michael will be very focused. It would be the perfect way of saying goodbye to everybody."

Both Schumacher senior and Alonso have 116 points in the drivers' standings but the German is ahead 7-6 on race wins and can clinch the title in Japan if he wins and Alonso fails to score a point.

Ralf also said Alonso's reported comments in China last week, complaining there were people at Renault who did not want him to win, could hurt the Spaniard's chances of retaining the title.

"I think with Fernando leaving Renault (for McLaren) and there being some trouble with them fighting with each other a bit in the team as it seems, I clearly see Michael having the upper hand," said the Toyota driver.

He also sought to defuse rumours of a souring of relations with his brother, despite only hearing about Michael's decision to retire from Formula One through the media.

The younger Schumacher shed some light on his throwaway remark in Monza two races ago, when he joked that maybe Michael would send him a text message informing him of his decision.

"I was just asked what I knew about it and certainly by the time Michael announced his retirement I had almost left the circuit," said Ralf.

"When journalists asked me I said I would hear about it via the press and that was the way it was - Michael announced it via the press and that's how I got it.

"We had a busy weekend and I had to go back home. It is a very special moment and I'm sure Michael had his reasons to do it the way he did it."

Ralf also said he had mixed feelings about the decision to drop Suzuka from the 2007 calendar in favour of Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway.

"It's like two hearts in a chest," he smiled. "As a Toyota employee it's good to have the race there (at Fuji). From a driving point of view I always loved Suzuka, so I will miss it a bit."

Ralf lent his support to those in the sport lobbying the FIA to stage two races annually in Japan - at Honda-owned Suzuka and at Fuji.

"We have only one German race now, so I'm sure there are races in Europe that you might be able to get rid of and position them in a better country for marketing purposes," he said.

"Since there are two major manufacturers being part of Formula One in Japan there is good reason to have two Grands Prix here instead of having maybe two in Italy."

Ralf, on pole position at Suzuka last year, was under no illusions about Toyota stealing the thunder from the Ferraris and Renaults this weekend - or at the final race in Brazil on October 22 - following a frustrating year.

"It has been a difficult season," he said. "We started off very poor and faced some reliability issues, which we didn't see in the years before.

"The last two races were also kind of a disaster. I still believe our car in the right circumstances is able to be on the podium. But we have to get our act together and keep pushing."

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