Closest championship in years

With three races to go, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen are just one and two points respectively behind Michael Schumacher in the championship table. It will take a remarkable set of events for this championship not to go down to the last round

Closest championship in years

There is no doubt that the new points system is doing its job of intensifying the title race. This is one of the closest championship battles in history, the more so because it involves three drivers fighting for the title. And that's without counting Ralf Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, all of whom remain with a mathematical chance of winning the title.

The nearest comparison in history is the 1981 season, when Nelson Piquet and Carlos Reutemann were level on points with three races to go. Third-placed Jacques Laffitte, however, was nine points behind at this stage. For the record, Piquet went on to take the title that year.

After Michelin swept the first seven positions in Budapest, the question now is whether Schumacher, Ferrari and Bridgestone can fight back at Monza, Indianapolis and Suzuka to prevent being overhauled in the championship run-in.

The Ferrari package could be expected to be much more competitive at the remaining circuits, with Schumacher particularlyly strong at Suzuka. McLaren still have their new car waiting to race, but it seems unlikely they would choose to run an unproven contender at such a late stage. More may be revealed after this week's Monza test.

Williams technical director Patrick Head said: "Michael always seems to have sector one at Suzuka very well sorted out, or his car does, so we certainly have some howework to do before then."

Although MIchael Schumacher's eight-point lead after the French Grand Prix has been steadily eroded, Ferrari MD Jean Todt refused to admit that Ferrari was now effectively out of the running after Hungary.

"Sometimes you have seen one team and one car on another planet. It happened for Alonso today, for Montoya three weeks ago, Rubens at Silverstone and Raikkonen was very fast at Nurburgring. I cannot predict what will happen."

Team orders may very soon come into play as it may make sense for second drivers to support the driver with the best championship chance. Both Williams and McLaren have ruled out team orders at this stage, but at Ferrari the policy of putting Michael first seems unlikely to be changed now.

Part of the intrigue is also the fact that team manipulation of results is not officially allowed. However, this would be almost impossible to police as long as manoeuvres are not performed as obviously as in Austria 2002.


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