Analysis: Sun Sets on Schumacher's Reign

The end is nigh for the longest unbroken reign in Formula One history

Analysis: Sun Sets on Schumacher's Reign

Monza, the temple of Italian motorsport that has served as a backdrop to so many tributes to Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, could well witness a more poignant moment on Sunday.

Unless Schumacher can score more points than Renault's overall leader Fernando Alonso, the seven-times World Champion will mathematically cease to be in title contention for the first time since 1999.

The German has ruled uninterruptedly since he won his first Ferrari title, and third of his career after those with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, at Suzuka in Japan on October 8, 2000.

Now the 36-year-old arrives 40 points adrift of Alonso, with five races remaining and little real hope of matching the Spaniard's pace at the fastest circuit on the calendar.

If Alonso, 24 points clear of McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, fails to finish then Schumacher must still score to defer his day of reckoning.

Either way, the Ferrari ace knows what is coming. He saw the writing on the wall long ago and knows it is just a question of seeing which of the two youngsters dethrones him.

"Honestly, it's not something that happens overnight," said Schumacher when asked on Thursday for his thoughts about what some see as the end of an era.

"I've been saying that until it's not mathematically possible to win then I'll keep fighting.

"But I'm also a realist and some races ago I pretty much knew that it's no longer possible to fight for the championship, especially after Turkey."

"It was a surprise that we got this far before being counted out of the championship," he added. "Nobody expected this and next year we will fight very hard to make our way back again."

Record Breaker

Ferrari looked comparatively slow in testing at Monza last week and Schumacher said only rain would give him any reason for optimism.

Points, rather than podiums, look a more realistic target for a team whose fall from dominance has been truly extraordinary.

Last year Schumacher won 13 of the 18 races and wrapped up the Championship in Belgium before returning to Monza for what amounted to a Ferrari victory parade.

Already holder of most of Formula One's records, the German had stepped ahead of the late, great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio as the only driver to win five titles in a row.

Most pundits held little hope of anyone preventing him claiming an eighth title this year, while Ferrari were also favourites to win the constructors' crown for a seventh successive year.

Instead the new season started with a freakish Australian Grand Prix, with Schumacher failing to finish, and Ferrari have stumbled ever since.

Schumacher's sole victory - the 84th of his career - came in the six-car fiasco at Indianapolis, a race shunned by the Michelin teams because of concerns about the safety of their tyres.

At last month's inaugural Turkish Grand Prix, the German failed to finish and his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello ended up without a point.

Barrichello had already announced he was leaving Ferrari for BAR next season by that point, to be replaced by compatriot Felipe Massa next year.

If anything symbolised the passing of a baton from one generation to another it was the San Marino Grand Prix in April, where Schumacher harried Alonso to the finish yet could not force his way past the victorious Spaniard.

Even if he will not have the number one next year, Schumacher has not given up hope of reclaiming it for what could well be the last time.

He has a contract for 2006 and said on Thursday that he was confident Ferrari would come back stronger then.

"If you look at the year altogether, I'm third in the drivers' championship and we are third in the constructors'," he said.

"We had been winning absolutely and we are not where we want to be, but we've had our ups and downs and with this and with a very clear situation, we understand we can improve.

"Other guys have been in our (current) position for years and they are still motivated," Schumacher added. "I'm looking forward to challenge the leaders. I have every reason to be motivated to challenge again."

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